San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Fast-Rhyming Duo Pokes Fun at Politics

If you never thought politics or corruption and lies would make you want to laugh, listen to Tico humorists Walter Quesada and Hugo Zamora.

Most people don’t find much wit among government functionaries, though some credit them with at least half. But these two guys from Heredia, north of San José, have risen to stardom on the foibles of the governing group. Although they’ve been doing their act for many years in front of varied audiences, their rhymes and rhythms during this year’s election campaigns brought them coverage on Repretel’s Channel 6 and gave them national status. Using traditional music and bombas or coplas (limericks or couplets) and wearing campesino-style hats and bandannas, they’ve brought humor where nobody thought it could exist.

First, there was the presidential election campaign, during which each candidate had his or her foibles exploited. Campaign slogans, running mates, TV spots and gaffes were a feast for comment. Unfortunately, the quips flew so fast that nobody could write them down or remember them 10 minutes later. One example that survives this writer’s memory was a rhyme about Otto Guevara reminding people that if they voted for “el guapo,” many times the handsome prince will turn into a “sapo” (toad).

The elections were barely over when the new Legislative Assembly fueled a slew of colorful coplas with proposed double-or nothing salary increases. Some legislators defended the idea of raising their own pay by saying that as representatives of the country they had to look their spiffiest. Quesada’s copla suggested they shop in the ropa Americanaused-clothing stores.

For Legislator Carlos Avendaño, who is remembered for climbing the National Monument in San José’s Parque Nacional in protest over the closing of a number of evangelical churches, the witty pair had this to say: “A Carlos Avendaño si no le hacen el aumento, ’horita se va a subir otra vez el monumento,” suggesting that he could climb up once more until he gets his pay raise.

Fifty-six legislators, pros and cons, provided enough material for several shows.

Finally, though, “doña Laura de las alzas salariales puso fin, y quitó la sonrisa de Viviana Martín” (President Laura Chinchilla put an end to the pay raises and wiped the smile off National Liberation Party leader Viviana Martín). Instead of double, they got nothing.

We find humor in everything, Quesada says. By simply observing, you can find something to write about.

“I make up coplas all the time, even walking down the street,” he says. Just find some words that rhyme and fill in around them.

He and partner Zamora are so fine-tuned that they can improvise a program on the spot. Zamora starts out playing traditional songs or music appropriate to the event.

“I want to ‘happy’ them up, so I play music to get them in the mood,” Zamora says.

Meanwhile, Quesada is watching the crowd, looking for material. It may be about a person in the audience, about the occasion or about the political or social scene. When he raises his hand, Zamora knows it’s a cue to play softly and let Quesada lead off with a shouted “¡Bomba!” as an introduction to a rhyme or limerick. In rapid succession, the show goes on.

Zamora began his musical career at age 7, when his father asked him what he’d like El Niño Jesús to bring him for Christmas.

“An accordion,” he answered. His repertoire of musical instruments has since expanded, but the accordion is still preferred for performances because it’s a lot easier to take around than a marimba. Music is a passion for him, and retirement from his teaching career enables him to play for hours. In addition to doing humor shows, he has written music and performed on the radio.

Quesada, an accountant with the Agricultural Development Institute, got an early start too, at about 9 years old. It’s a gift, a talent, he says. As a student at the NationalUniversity, he joined groups that told stories, jokes and comments on the social scene.

Later, he was part of Nakaomi, a folkloric group that did similar programs. That’s where he and Zamora met. Together they set up their own type of program, so long ago that neither remembers the date, but at least 10 years back. They still don’t have a name for themselves.

CDs of their humor and music are available at their shows, and Quesada’s book, “Soy coplero,” published by the StateUniversity at a Distance (UNED) is available in UNED bookstores. Quesada is on Radio América Saturdays at 5:30 a.m.

With broader exposure on Repretel TV, they will be on many future programs. Because they don’t have a name, it’s not easy to find their schedule. (They will be performing in Alajuela, northwest of the capital, on Independence Day Sept. 15.) But their names crop up in municipal and TV programs. They’ll never lack for fresh material.

Presently, there’s the highway to Caldera, for which you pay to duck falling rocks and dirt. And they don’t neglect the church, either, not with Father Minor Calvo opening up a restaurant after getting out of prison.

And there was Bruno Stagno’s resignation as ambassador to the United Nations before he even packed his bags: “El pueblo de Costa Rica no acepta ningún engaño, por eso está feliz con la renuncia de Bruno Stagno” (“The people of Costa Rica accept no deception, thus they are happy with Bruno Stagno’s resignation”).

The municipal elections in December will be another cream pitcher of fun. In fact, the two are already warming up (“En el mes de diciembre vienen las elecciones con cambio de los alcaldes de provincias y cantones”).

As for San José Mayor Johnny Araya, who wants to continue his 20-year stint but faces formidable opposition from feminist Gloria Valerín: “Parece que a Johnny Araya ya le llegó el fin, porque tiene de contrincante a Gloria Valerín” (“It appears the end is here for Johnny Araya, because he has Gloria Valerín as an opponent”).

And for those alajuelenses who endure a run-down, dirty bus station, trip-causing cracks and holes in sidewalks and missing manhole covers, here is the truth, even if it hurts, about how lucky it is that Mayor Joyce Zürcher will soon be leaving: “Voy a decir la verdad aunque a la gente le duela, qué dicha que se va la alcaldesa de Alajuela!

Because programs are sometimes arranged at the last minute and many are at schools, colleges and for private audiences, it’s hard to find out in advance where the duo is performing. Just stay tuned for the names Quesada and Zamora.

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