A Lil’ Taste-o-Talent: Music in Costa Rica

Mavis Britwum is a student at The College of New Jersey and an ISA Featured Blogger. Mavis is currently studying abroad in San Jose, Costa Rica on a Fall 4 program.

I love music. But even more I love the crate diggers; you know the ones your DJ mixes and mashes into something a little more tasteful for the current generation; into something unidentifiable and so unlike the original. I say this because even in Spanish music, I’m more attracted to the Eddie Palmieri-es, Celia Cruz-es and Joe Arroyo-s of the genre. The complex rhythms rooted in African, European, Native, and sometimes Indian cultures, the organic instrumentation, and richly historic lyrics that make up Salsa, Cumbia Merengue, Palo, and Latin Jazz just to name a few are far more interesting in my opinion.

Costa Rica’s music scene is something like its feria de la agricultura, where the local market is abundant in fresh fruits and veggies is a culmination of the different types of music to come from Latin America. You can get your fix of Reggae, Rap, and Latin sometimes fused into the same song.

So in my quest for music in Costa Rica, I’ve stumbled upon some intriguing talent across my local city of San Jose.

Bar El Observatorio: Barrio California

I ventured here last week with a couple friends for Monday night Salsa. While in Costa Rica, I have to say my Salsa dance skills has improved from the simple two-step I mimicked from friends back home. And I’ve had numerous dance sessions with pretty smooth Salsa dancers at clubs around the country. I fan myself with pride with the level of dance I have developed. So live music, open dance floor, $4 for entrance fee, count me in!

Oh no, count me out!

Well not really, only that the dance floor was swarming with actual Salsa professionals! Partners shuffled in and out of each other’s spaces, bringing their best and most complicated Salsa steps to the floor. It was difficult to find one couple to keep my eyes on; they were all so good! And this bar is known for its dramatic live performances so there’s never a dull night. But on Monday nights, gear up with your most comfortable shoes and be prepared to sweat because it is a haven for real Salsa dance and music.

El Lobo Esterepo: San Jose Downtown

Like I mentioned before, Costa Rica has a bit of everything for everyone to enjoy. This venue is a very chill, artsy environment that attracts a crowd range from early twenties to late thirties. The night began with an awesome band that infuses Reggae with French. It sounds different but blends well. The featured band, “Fuerza Dread”, infuses Reggae, Latin rhythms and sings in Spanish. The two bands exemplify the beauty of Latin American/Caribbean music, in that no matter where it goes or how far it travels, the different genres are so flexible and easily adaptable.

Fuerza Dread knows how to bite into the fruit of Reggae, find the taste of its good vibrations while infusing their Spanish language into the recipe. It’s a sweet mix of the two cultures, and even sweeter live. Their band includes an acrobatic horn section with saxophone, trumpet, and trombone. I couldn’t help but affiliate these instruments with their players—the shabby afro and spectacles on the trumpet who may have been the nerd in high school but was definitely on a funky, cool wave in this band.  With almost 10 members, including two singers, Fuerza Dread is definitely one of Costa Rica’s more acclimated musical blends.

Bar el lobo

Costa Rican Symphony

Have I mentioned I love music? And I don’t just listen to classical music for lullabaic intentions.  So for you classical buffs out there, Costa Rica’s National Symphonic Orchestra often plays at the National Theatre located in downtown San Jose. It is a landmark and tourist attraction, decorated from inside out with marvelous marble statues, elaborate chandeliers, and a foyer glimmering with gold lining its artfully painted walls and Victorian style furniture. I was fortunate to see the symphony play two pieces by Johannes Brahms and one from Karl Goldmark. It was beautiful and I was happy to indulge with some of Costa Rica’s elites for a night.

Not saying I paid like an elite. But student perks are nice in this city. Tickets for the show only cost me $6— thank you school!

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