After three years of appearances at popular and well-respected festivals in America and Europe, last month the Orquesta de la Papaya was finally able to fulfil its fondest wish: from 2 to 17 April the orchestra was able to put on a series of concerts in five Central American countries, the region where the members of this international company hail from. The major geographical variations and the high cost of travelling had previously made such an extended tour impossible.
Orquesta de la Papaya wants its music to contribute to the cultural integration between the seven countries of Central America, which are Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize. The fourteen musicians each represent an individual musical tradition of the various population groups in the region. In this way, a rich fusion has been created from the music of such peoples as the Garífunas from Honduras and the Indians from Guatemala, mixed together with contemporary music styles such as reggae, R&B and rap. The orchestra’s second CD, Tierra de Dulce Espera , which was released in 2004, takes as its theme female musical traditions. Many of the female guest musicians who played on the CD also performed at the concerts in April, which were held both in large concert halls and in open air plazas.
‘The audiences in the different countries reacted very differently’, says Manuel Obregon, pianist and orchestra leader. ‘In Panama, people became very emotional and wept openly. The Nicaraguans did not know what to expect and were a little more reserved at first. However, in the Honduras and Belize, people were more outgoing again. The audiences enjoyed seeing and hearing local musicians play with other Central Americans.’
Later this year there will be further concerts, in Guatemala and El Salvador. Now that the Orquesta de la Papaya is more well-known and a network of organisers has been put in place, it hopes to be able to tour more frequently in its own region in the future. In doing so, the orchestra hopes to give both young and old a feeling for their own roots and to offer an alternative to all kinds of dominant outside influences.
The Orquesta de la Papaya is supported by the Hivos Culture Fund. In June 2005, this fund will be celebrating the tenth year of its foundation. This occasion will be celebrated by events as the publication of writings by such renowned authors as Breyten Breytenbach and information on cultural organisations from all over the world, including the Orquesta de la Papaya.