One of the largest black populations in Costa Rica is found in the province of Limón, whose Caribbean coast became the entryway for slavery in the country during colonization, but also welcomed West Indies immigrants, mostly Jamaican, during the Atlantic railroad works in the 19th century. This cultural contribution gave birth to Costa Rica’s very own unique strain of calypso, which became popular in the region, especially during Carnaval time.
In an attempt to preserve the sounds of Costa Rican calypso, Charly Fariseo, Álvaro Díaz, and Nacho Duarte developed a calypso sample library called Chantuelle Beat after winning a grant from the country’s Ministry of Culture, and it’s now available as a free download. The three musicians are part of the dance outfit ROMBOS and run their own Rombos Sound Studio, where they work in recording and sound design for diverse purposes.
In late 2018, the ROMBOS members traveled to Limón province, more specifically to Cahuita, the birthplace of the Costa Rica’s proclaimed King Calypsonian himself, Walter Ferguson, who turned 100 this year. There, they recorded all the samples included in the library, which includes loops and patterns performed in typical Costa Rican calypso instruments like banjo, congas, quijongo, guitar, and bass. They were played by local band Kawe Calypso, actually formed by some of Ferguson’s apprentices.
Chantuelle Beat was made available to the public last month, and contains almost 100 different sound files, aimed for musicians, producers, and DJs who are interested in introducing elements from calypso limonense in their musical endeavors. The whole process was captured on video, and a documentary is being showcased at San Jose’s Centro Cultural de España on July 18.
We chatted with ROMBOS’ Díaz to learn more about the project, its development, and Costa Rican calypso.
Why did you choose Costa Rican calypso as the subject for your Proartes grant application?
[The main reason is] that we wanted to make a positive impact on people through sounds that have been part of our society for years. We want younger generations to become sensitive to this genre through technology.
Two [of] these cultural grants’ main points are innovation and cultural preservation. We researched a genre that has had an important resurgence in recent decades and was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage by the State of Costa Rica. This way we can highlight calypso’s significance in our musical identity.
What were some of your findings while researching calypso and traveling to Cahuita?
To us, the execution of this project represents a period of great musical growth and learning of this genre that is so connected to our identity.
[What we found was] the warmth from the people in Cahuita, all the music we discovered, and other musicians and researchers who have tried for years to get this music to all corners of the country, and the world.
In Cahuita we quickly had good rapport with the locals and the musicians. We were able to know each other better during the recordings and we shared life stories and music; learning from seasoned musicians was a great experience.
How did you came upon Kawe Calypso?
We invited Kawe Calypso to be part of the project because they are the most prominent [Costa Rican calypso] band, with three of the oldest calypsonians in the region who also write and perform their [own] music. They too are interested in preserving the genre for new generations, and that allowed the project to flow in the best way possible.
Why did you decide to share the sound library as a free download?
First of all, because it was born from a contest by our country’s Ministry of Culture, where the main goal is that the projects have a social impact in our people and the Central American region.
Apart from that, with Chantuelle Beat we are interested in disseminating the sounds of our Caribbean [coast] through new music production. Right now, we are working to create a [sample] pack for Ableton Live (including vocal samples), which will be released through this platform probably in 2020. That way, we can give continuity to the project and bring these sounds to many more places and producers who make completely different types of music.
There is a compilation coming, featuring artists who created tracks based on the sample library. What can you share with us about that?
Right when we finished the sound library, we decided to share it with producers and musicians who could use and transform the samples. We had the chance to invite some Costa Rican composers like Nochi, Funka, and Nillo, as well as New York producer and educator Dan Freeman, and many Latin American producers like Bomba Estéreo’s Simón Mejía, Nicola Cruz, Carlos Méndez, Richi Tunacola, among others.
The compilation will be presented in the following months as part of the project’s ongoing spreading [campaign].
Chantuelle Beat is now available free of charge. Download it here.