COSTA RICA: Sabor en un Tiempo Cruel - Ojo de Buey
Successfully fusing three seemingly disparate genres, Ojo de Buey create a perfect chilled-out album whilst showing off the riches of Costa Rican culture
When Danny recommended me this album, he described it as reggae rock fusion, and I immediately took a deep breath. Before I started this world album quest, reggae was one of the few music genres for which I held a blanket dislike, and while I had gone some way to correcting this unfair preconception by finding much to enjoy in Damian Marley and Nas’ excellent 2010 album Distant Relatives, reggae still remained a genre I didn’t enjoy all that much. So, it was with apprehension that I began to listen to Ojo de Buey. Luckily, I found myself enjoying it very much, with the reggae element ultimately being to my taste. Latin rock, whether it’s from Maldita Vecindad and Café Tacuba in Mexico or it’s Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Sumo in Argentina, the ska and reggae influence on Latin rock is undeniable and part of what makes Latin rock what it is. The influence has been so lovingly incorporated into the music of the region that it becomes irresistible, and I was quickly warmed to Ojo de Buey’s charms. Furthermore, to call them just reggae rock would be a misnomer, as there is a strong salsa and Afro-Latino influences as well on their music. Overall, it makes for an intensely fun listening experience.
“...it references aspects of Costa Rican culture, both Indigenous and Hispanic, as well as its Caribbean and African roots, and as such, it becomes an enticing collection of appealing songs”
Formed in 2007, Sabor en un Tiempo Cruel, meaning ‘taste in cruel times’ in English is Ojo de Buey’s debut album. Their name reflects their Costa Rican origins, as the ojo de buey (literally meaning ‘ox’s eye’) is the name of a particular seed that is native to Costa Rica and in popular indigenous folklore it is supposed to bring good luck, as well as it being used for traditional remedies. The album was recorded in a beach house situated on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, and the album itself is reminiscent of such an atmosphere. One could easily close one’s eyes and imagine themselves on a sunny beach, where everything is relaxed and calm. Though the music is often upbeat, reggae has a very steady, rocking beat, which gives the music a wonderfully calm feeling. To counter this, some songs such as Tiempo Mejor (possibly my favourite for the way it so successfully navigates its way through salsa, reggae, and rock all in one fantastic tune) and La Costanera have a salsa style beat, meaning that the album can cater to different moods and situations, even though reggae remains at the root of all they do. All the while, however, it is mixed in with rock music, and often you have songs that begin like a reggae track and suddenly you can hear a blistering guitar solo come through. This shows their skill as they are able to mix these musical genres without them seeming disparate, and it becomes a fluent style that recurs throughout the album to much success.
Taken all together, the album name and the ensuing music can be seen as essentially Costa Rican, as it references aspects of Costa Rican culture, both Indigenous and Hispanic, as well as its Caribbean and African roots, and as such, it becomes an enticing collection of appealing songs. The phrase ‘pura vida’ is often used when describing Costa Rican culture, and while it literally means pure life, it has come to mean much more than that, essentially encapsulating the optimistic, care-free, relaxed attitude of its inhabitants, and I feel a lot of that has been captured on this album. Perhaps due to it being recorded in idyllic pastures, and also perhaps due to the culture of the musicians recording it, Sabor en un Tiempo Cruel for me recalls halcyon days of relaxation and tranquillity. It might not be my favourite Latin rock album as it lacks some of the vitality and no-nonsense slap-in-the-face energy and exuberance that I like from rock music, even when that rock music is essentially a fusion genre with something else, but when taken in its context, and when in the right mood for winding down and having fun, the vibe of the album is just right.