"The Weed Song" originated in British Guyana. Unlike many other travelled Calypsos, this one can actually be traced back to a specific Calypsonian called BILL ROGERS. Since its first recording in 1934 on shellac, it has been played and recorded in countless versions throughout the Caribbean. The following video shows five of them from different eras and different locations.
Stirred by its fame, "The Weed Song" served as a base for new compositions «borrowing» meldoy or lyrics from the original tune :
In 1957, Trinidadian GEORGE ANDERSON, together with his brother, the legendary Calypsonian DUKE OF IRON (CECIL ANDERSON) invented completely new lyrics for "The Weed Song", but keept the melodic structure and rhythm intact. The lyrics of their song called "The Walking Department Store" tell the story of a street vendor who is selling stolen items.
This song too travelled through the Caribbean, an example is the version by LORD COBRA of Panama, who dubbed it "Crooked Salesman".
Photo of Don Walter 2002 by Mario Chacón
We all agreed that this day at the Studio "Eclipse" in Turrialba shows exactly how the magic of Walter Ferguson works: people get moved by his music, and when they really start to love and care, they eventually want to give something back. So more and more people are joining the Tape hunt, all for the love of music and the immense respect for Mr. Gavitt.
As the digitalization and evaluation of those 5 tapes will take some time - please stay tuned for more news on this.
We're stoked to announce that the BBC World Service, with an estimated 60 million listeners worldwide weekly, will air an exclusive "Tape Hunt" episode on Sun 29 Dec 2019, featuring interviews with Don Walter, Peck Ferguson and Niels Werdenberg. Big up to Reporter Clayton Conn and his team for their effort to spread the word.
Fingers crossed, this show will reach more tape owners around the world (please contact us here) so we'll be able to find Don Walter's missing Calypsos from the 70s, 80s and 90s!
Following the broadcast on 29 Dec 2019, the Radio show will be available online.
In Central America, music distribution networks don't exist anymore, neither do record labels or CD or vinyl production factories. That's why the Tape Hunt project collaborates with a European label (Bongo Joe Records). Since most Record or CD Shops in Central America have been put out of business in the last 15 years - because of the dominance of downloading and streaming music - it is so much harder to get a copy of our album in Costa Rica than, say in Europe, the US or Japan.
As with Vol.1, Vol.2 was again produced in Europe. In order to get the album to Costa Rica and make it available within the country, we had to build our own very basic "grass roots" network, and we heavily rely on the friendly support of the very few remaining music dealers like Denki Records in San Jose. Thanks again to you all!
So today we celebrate the fact, that Don Walter can finally sell his copies in Cahuita. It will be available at Tienda Sol Y Mar at the family's hostel and breakfast place, right at the entrance to the gorgeous Cahuita National Park, that encompasses some of Gavitt's former cacao farm land.
Wimba! Ya Don Walter tiene la copia de su disco, el Volumen 2 del The Walter Gavitt Ferguson "Tape Hunt" Pueden conseguirlo en CD o vinilo directamente con la familia Ferguson los teléfonos 8838-3661 y 8893-2252
Spoiler: We don't know either! All we know is that we are very very greatful for this lovely support! Big up to Erin MacLeod for her great effort and catching up with Don Walter, Manuel Monestel, Paula Palmer and Michael Williams for this article. Shout out to Isadora Dartial, David Blot & the team from Radio Nova for making the pilgrimage all the way to Cahuita!
Fingers crossed we'll find more tapes in Europe!
Read the Guardian piece on line here.
Enjoy the Nova Club Episode here.
This previously unreleased Calypso was found on one of Don Walter's priceless home recorded cassette tapes. The specific cassette belongs to US author Paula Palmer, who wrote a book called "Wa' apin man / What happen" in 1977. It is the first book about Talamancen culture and quite some pages are dedicated to Don Walter. He returned the favour by composing this Calypso.
We estimate there are still many dozens of songs missing, maybe captured on surviving casettes out there, waiting to be discovered again. Help us get the word out there to find more cassettes and save another piece of Costa Rican cultural history.
"A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots."-Marcus Garvey-
Photo of Walter Ferguson wall painting by Christiane Zwick
In 2013 German journalist Christiane Zwick interviewed Walter and Peck Ferguson in Cahuita.
A year later her story for Radio NDR won the Golden Columbus Award.
AUTHENTIC AND IRRESISTIBLE AGAIN: The second "Tape Hunt" compilation album (LP, CD, CAS, DIGITAL) features another string of 15 previously unreleased jewels, carefully selected and restored from the Calypso King's legendary home-recorded Audio Cassettes that were found in various places in Costa Rica, the United States and in Canada. CD and LP come with extensive Liner notes on Ferguson's Biography, his tapes and the recent finds by the ongoing Tape Hunt. The album is available here.
Vol. 2 is dedicated to Don Claudio Reid, Cahuita's school teacher and Gavitt's good friend who passed away earlier this year. The song "Bad Minded People" tells the story of how Mr. Reid created Cahuita's central Park with his own two hands.
Links to Reviews:
Around the wax (FR)
Some years ago, the famous rapper & actor Mos Def a.k.a Yasiin Bey told his colleague Jneiro Jarel that he should visit Cahuita and link up with the legendary Calypso King. He followed through and fell in love with Cahuita.
In an Interview with the VICE magazine, Janeiro explains:
"I had a long talk with Yasiin Bey about getting away for a while, and I was interested in this small town on the Caribbean coast called Cahuita. He lit up and said he used to live there [and that] I should meet up with the legendary local musician, Walter Ferguson. I ended up going and fell in love with the place," says the nomadic producer Jneiro Jarel (also known as Dr. Who Dat?). Thus came about "Cahuita," Jarel's ode to the Costa Rican beachy paradise. A slice of experimental hip-hop made of live instrumentation and sampled bird calls, the track carries the grooves of LA's beat community, where Jarel spent several years collaborating with artists like Flying Lotus and Daedelus.
Check out the resulting Track: "Cahuita"
We’ve worked hard in the past months to put out the second compilation album (VINYL, CD, CAS and DIGITAL) of Don Walter’s legendary Tapes on time. Vinyl already entered in production and we’re crossing fingers that we’ll have them on time for the Calypso Festival scheduled 15-18th of August 2019.
Our project The Walter Gavitt Ferguson "Tape Hunt" is now officially of cultural interest. Though the declaration is from March 2019, we just learned about it today - wich is already a special day for Calypso: It's Don Walter's 100th birthday and the first National Calypso Day of Costa Rica.
Festejamos el Día Nacional del Calipso Costarricense y los 100 años del nacimiento del músico cahuiteño, Walter Ferguson, compartiendo la declaratoria de interés cultural aprobada por el Misterio de Cultura para el proyecto The Walter Gavitt Ferguson "Tape Hunt"
To celebrate this, we'll share a few Tape Hunt pearls today.
Enjoy a short Interview from 1981 and a beautiful lost & found Calypso from Gavitts legendary tapes. Thanks to all our contributors & supporters, without you we couldn't do this!!!
Drop in again later, we have some more for you.
Some of the mentioned details need a slight correction though: Calypso is not a mix of Reggae and Ska, it is a much older art form and cultural expression, dating back to the time of Slavery. Also the Tape Hunt is an initiative of the Ferguson family.
A few weeks ago we were contacted by Michael Williams, who had recorded the music for Don Walter's first album in 1981, wich was released on the US label "Folkways" a year later as "Mr. Gavitt: Calypsos of Costa Rica" and marked the beginning of Don Walters international recognition as composer and musician.
Mr. Williams had recently heard about our Tape Hunt project and told us that he still had the original cassette recordings from the LP - and probably also a few songs that did not make it onto the LP. Then, as he started to digitalise his almost 40 year old cassettes, he discovered that they contained mostly unreleased material, recorded in Cahuita between March 1981 and 1983.
Mr.Williams' original cassette recordings and the front of the 1982 Folkways LP.
In a recent e-mail, Mr. Williams shed some light on the background of the recordings:
" In March 1981 I met and recorded Walter Ferguson, having been introduced by Paula Palmer. I used a non-portable Nakamichi Cassette deck. We recorded several sessions at home and in the Cahuita schoolhouse after 5 PM. ...We tried to find a time and place with the least possible intrusive noise (i.e. trucks, children, roosters, insects) since a sound studio was unavailable. Nevertheless, there was significant insect noise behind all these recordings. So I had them cleaned up a bit by Mickey Hoolihan (who had recorded Paul Horn in the wild and lived nearby) before sending a demo to Folkways Records Inc. Folkways founder Moses Asch phoned me and offered to produce "Mr. Gavitt: Calypso Music of Costa Rica," which came out on vinyl in 1982. After Mr. Asch's death, the Folkways collection was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution. My five original 1981 tapes contain quite a few songs that were not included on the Folkways album.In spring 1983 I returned to Costa Rica and again recorded a series of songs by Mr. Gavitt using a Uher portable cassette recorder. After returning to the USA, I also looked around for releasing these recordings. But I was unable to find a producer at that time, so these recordings have never 'seen the light of day'."
Mr. Williams generously contributed all the unreleased material to the Tape Hunt project.
It is an important addition and another big leap towards saving Walter Ferguson's legacy: The recordings contain many rare and unheard songs, even a few short interviews and a whole session of Don Walter's beautiful "Lo-Fi overdubs", featuring double voice and drumming.
Stay tuned for more surprises soon!
Above: The original cassettes from Paula Palmer.
Above: The first editions (eng/spa) of Paula Palmer's book. Quite some pages are dedicated to "Mr. Gavitt", his lyrics and his biography. Since 1977, the book has been edited and re-published several times. It is still available today (last edition from 2005).
Paula Palmer is a North American sociologist who lived on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast from 1973 to 1993. There she helped Afro-Caribbean and indigenous Bribri communities analyze and publish their own accounts of their histories and aspirations as unique peoples. For three years she directed a Community Research Project at the regional high school, where her students published their own oral histories of the region. Since 1996 she is executive director of Global Response/Environmental Action and Education Network, based in Boulder, Colorado.
In the early 1980s "Mr. Gavitt" developed a simple trick to add a second voice to some of his recordings, using a second tape recorder for playback. In this interview the 99-year old "King of home recording" remembers how he had surprised Paula Palmer, the author of "Wa' apin man" - a book about the Afrocaribbean Culture in Talamanca - with the resulting double voices. He also recalls a particular incident, where he had himself quite confused by trying to record a third voice on top of all that.
Now, what you hear at the end of this clip is a noisy but stunningly beautiful, two voiced version of "Monilia". We have found this gem on Tapes coming from Costa Rica. So far, we could rescue only one other example of his overdub experiments. According to the man himself, he did record quite a few, sometimes adding a second voice, whistling or percussion. Of course we are hoping to find some of these overdub sessions with the invaluable help of our supporters - so thank you for sharing!
Above: Don Walter (left) and his friend and neighbour Don Claudio Reid playing their favourite game Tablero. (picture taken from the biography of Walter Ferguson: “El Rey del calipso” by Françoise Kühn de Anta).
Above: The central park on main road in Cahuita with busts of the towns fundadores.
Below: Hear Don Claudio recount the fascinating history of old Cahuita, true to the oral tradition of his people. Thanks to David Chavarría for this recording.
In 2017, nine original tapes were located in Canada:
In 2018, six original tapes were found in Costa Rica:
In 2019, five original tapes were recovered in the USA:
In 2019, unreleased parts from Don Walter's "Folkways" album were donated to the Tape Hunt:
In 2020, another five original tapes were found in Costa Rica: