I was in the middle of a song-writing session in Bushwick (Brooklyn) when my longtime friend and founder of Electrify Mag, Amanda Ho texted me to see if I wanted to join her on an editorial expedition to Nicaragua. For the sole purpose of having never been to Nicaragua, I said yes.
A few weeks later, I found myself exploring the silver linings of the country. Our team, comprised of film director Shawn Corrigan and photographer, Chiara Gerek, found ourselves on the road through volcanoes and vast, stunning glacial lakes. I tried to take in as much of our surroundings as we could on our drive to the coast. After an evening in Granada, we landed by chance at Maderas Village for a short two days. Tucked away in the serene, treed hills of the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua, just fifteen minutes away from the sleepy surf town of San Juan del Sur , we had stumbled upon the opportunity to stay at this boutique hotel.
It wouldn’t be a cliche to say that the people you meet along the way are truly what make an experience. Maderas Village has garnered not only a team, but a family of friends, creative forces and bright souls whose paths have all crossed in order to contribute to something beautiful and unscathed by the worlds that follow us across borders.
After stepping into the “lobby” which also serves as a common gathering area (and what we were later to learn, the only place with Wi-Fi on the property), we were greeted by a smiling face and head of blonde tendrils, Matt Dickinson (aka Dickie), the Founding Partner who very kindly handed introductions all around. We were introduced to Paul Adams of Threee Management Company who coincidentally, with the help of his partners, several major publishing houses and the Maderas director of A&R, Allison VanCleave, had arranged a songwriting camp for nine talented writers, producers and instrumentalists to create on a blank canvas propped in front of a forested, Nicaraguan backdrop. After being in the music business for twenty-five years, Adam’s said, “My greatest success is that I have never felt jaded about the arts. There’s never been a moment where I found it difficult to listen to music… The goal of this trip was to bring like minded people together.” Submerged in the New York City music industry, I gladly and somewhat shockingly found that my life at home in Brooklyn, New York, had found a way to follow me from the Atlantic to the Pacific shores.
After speaking with Dickinson and Adams, we made our way up the rocky dirt hill to discover the Maderas Village recording compound which was complete with a beautiful upper modern studio, furnished with blue-tooth speakers, a guitar, contemporary wooden tables and a wrap-around balcony with floor to ceiling glass doors that featured a panoramic view of the lush green landscape. We spent the day floating in the warm waters at Maderas Beach, sipping on Tona (the local cerveza), and eating what I think, are probably the best tacos I’ve ever had in my life.
Following our time kicking back, the four of us in the Electrify crew needed to tend to the stacking emails in our inboxes so we grabbed our laptops and comfortably set up up shop in the common area. About halfway through our work, one by one, guests of the hotel, members of the staff and musicians in the songwriting camp trickled into the common area with smiles stretched across their bronzed skin and rosy cheeks. Then, the green eyed, charming VanCleave had sat in front of me. Exuberant and bright, she told me her story of living and working in Manhattan, New York, coming to Maderas and simply falling in love. She said good-bye to her beloved apartment in the heart of the city and traded it all in for an island life. Now VanCleave is director the A & R at Maderas, but there should be parentheticals next to her title saying, “Vibe Curator.” Not an easy task, as her wide, diverse taste exquisitely soundtracks the tropical jungle nights under the stars.
A few Tonas later, I found myself in the recording studio space in a proper jam session with a group of the guests at Maderas Village. There I met, Cody Marksohn, who helped design and create the studio, and happened to be a Greenpoint, Brooklyn resident only a fifteen-minute walk away from where I live in Brooklyn. It’s always sufficiently ironic and humorous to have had to leave the country to meet someone you’ve probably passed by unknowingly on a subway platform. Endearing and very soft spoken, he had managed to describe Maderas Village in a way that had encapsulated not just my personal experience, but what I imagine most of the people visiting experience. He had described it as a place where you don’t have to sacrifice your work or passion to satisfy your hunger for travel. Maderas Village is a place that if anything, helps to inspire your endeavors further.
Marksohn’s words resonated with me as I sat down with a few of the artists involved with the songwriting camp. First, I sat down with Vance Musgrove, of the Australian duo, The Aston Shuffle. Already apart of a collaborative project himself and having, “built on this skillset of writing with others for sometime,” he had said, “I don’t think you can come to a place like this and be immersed with writers like this, and not have it affect you.”
Next was Koko LaRoo, a Los Angeles based songwriter who works with artists all across the spectrum from Rihanna to Keke Palmer to Nick Jonas. The brunette songstress and instrumentalist started her co-writing career at just nineteen. With a confident yet easygoing persona, LaRoo comes off as the type of artist who could write a song anywhere, saying, “this place is so beautiful, I could write a song right here where we’re sitting… I want to just grab a guitar and write on the beach.” Emerged in a completely new workspace she said, “The studio down the road has this massive window looking out at the jungle. A lot of the songs have tended to be more romantic. It makes you want to share the moment with someone..I just want to write mellow, swaying, feel good music here.”
Lastly, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ben Hudson, stage name, Mr. Hudson, infamously known for his part in Kanye West’s “808’s and Heartbreak” and now one of his latest solo track’s, “Dancing Thru It”. The music industry isn’t known to be a walk on the beach (pun intended), but Hudson came off pleasantly whimsical, and insightful. An undoubtable strong presence, he said, “I’m good at forgetting about the industry all together, I’m good at leaving it at JFK or LAX. I’m here to have fun and write. I haven’t been checking my phone or my laptop. I don’t even think it’s connected to Wi-Fi.. I think it’s a luxury you have to allow yourself because you work differently if you can leave those things behind. It’s important to leave your thoughts about the business behind and come and write songs and not even worry about what’s going to happen to them.”
Maderas Village strikes up a warmth in people difficult to find so many times in a row in places like New York City and Los Angeles, yet most people we met dawned from just those places if not similar cities in nature. Each person you speak with at Maderas Village has something positive to say about the affect this country has on you and a fascinating story to tell about their path to Madera’s Village. It is the team members, and returning guests turned friends and family that are the heart and soul of this magical little corner of Nicaragua. Maderas Village is the kind of place that can convince you that there are a thousand ways left to live worth exploring.