San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica declares calypso music ‘national patrimony’

It’s as Caribbean as rice and beans and sunshine. Calypso music has been popular along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast since the late 1800s. More than a century later, the government of Costa Rica has declared the style of music “national patrimony.”

Executive decree No. 37418-C, published in the official government newspaper La Gaceta last week, gives special recognition to Calypso as part of Costa Rica’s cultural and historical identity, the daily La Nación reported.

Calypso was introduced into Costa Rica by Jamaican immigrants who settled along the Caribbean coast. The style of music combines simple, yet catchy, chord structures with lyrics that tell stories as diverse as a region’s history, a family’s financial woes or a no-good, drinking, cheating and gambling spouse. Calypso singers relate the joys of local cuisine, the beauty of the Caribbean and the struggles of the Afro-Caribbean people throughout history.

Calypso is said to have originated in the Caribbean archipelagic state of Trinidad and Tobago, and began as a form of communication between slaves from Africa. For more than a century, calypso singers have entertained throughout the Caribbean province of Limón, and even as far west as the capital, San José. Costa Rica’s most famous calypso musician, Walter Ferguson, who lives in the small southern Caribbean beach community of Cahuita, helped put Costa Rican calypso on the map, having performed in concerts in Europe and elsewhere.

Ferguson, 93, told La Nación he’s happy the government is officially recognizing his beloved style of music. “There are children growing up who want to know what calypso is. I hope they have the chance to learn,” he said.

Read a 2006 Tico Times interview with Ferguson here.

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