Calypso in Costa Rica. Recognizing its importance to the Costa Rica's cultural and historical identity, the government declared it ‘national patrimony’.
Brought to the beautiful shores of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast by Jamaican immigrants in the late 1800s, Calypso music still remains an integral part of the country’sculture today. Initially used as a form of communication and storytelling between African slaves in Trinidad and Tobago given that, at times, their masters forbade them to speak, Calypso is far from being just another style of music; behind the carefully-chosen lyrics and an often memorable melody, the Afro-Caribbean music becamea tool for survival in an otherwise miserable life of arduous manual labor. Moreover, this need to share stories and preserve memories is still at the heart of the numerous Calypso songs played and enjoyed by present-day Costa Ricans.
- Recognizing the importance of this particular style of Afro-Caribbean music to the country’s cultural and historical identity, the Costa Rican government officially declared it ‘national patrimony’ in December 2012.
- With more than 70 years of Calypso music under his belt, Costa Rica’s Walter Ferguson has become a national hero in the entertainment industry and, thanks to his nostalgic lyrics, he strives toenlighten the country’s younger inhabitants about the rich history of their nation.
Although the combination of steel drums, Caribbean string instruments and an assortment of wind instruments are vital to the unique sounds of Calypso, it is the storytelling lyrics sung by various Calypsonians throughout history which remain the focal point of the musical genre. Sharing stories of familial financial despair, unfaithful and alcoholic spouses and the unjust suffering of Afro-Caribbean people at the hands of power-obsessed European colonists, the subject matters of Calypso songs are incredibly diverse. However, Calypso song lyrics do not only revolve around periods of great hardship and corruption; the use of humorous, ironic and sarcastic lyrics seeking to harmlessly mock local community issues is equally prevalent. Featured on his 2003 album “Dr.Bombodee”, Walter Ferguson’s hit “G-O-O-D” captures this comic essence. Most likely based on the past schooling system of Costa Rican province, Limón, the song tells of a student who, believing to have received a prestigious education from an inspirational teacher, decides to prove his intellectual ability by applying to university. However, knowing only how to spell the word “good”, his teacher has somewhat deceived him and, being little more than an illiterate fool, the student is ridiculed by the university’s academic staff. A light-hearted and fun Calypso song it may be, but the subtle criticizing of the allegedly poor education system of Limón’s past isindisputably present.
Originally sung in French patois by Trinidad and Tobago’s African slaves, Calypso music was linguistically modified once it reached 19th Century Costa Rica and, even to this day, the characteristically rhyming and repetitive lyrics are often sung in Creole English. While Spanish may be the country’s official language, Costa Rica’s older inhabitants truly value this use of Creole English in Calypso songs given its capacity to preserve the mother tongue of their Afro-Caribbean ancestors. With the arrival of mainstream music, Costa Rica’s younger generations do not share in this same passion. Preferring the more upbeat sounds of contemporary reggae and reggaetown, what many youths do not realize, however,is that Calypso has heavily influenced these modern genres and, therefore, they too, even if unconsciously, appreciate the sounds of a musical genre which has enjoyed national popularity for almost 150 years.
Beneath the surface of what is seemingly just another form of musical entertainment, Calypso music serves to preserve the memory of an undeniably inspirational group of people—a group of 19th Century African slaves who, in spite of multiple injustices, created a uniqueart form which successfully united them and provided them with hope.