A few weeks ago journalist Clayton Conn gave us a hint that the BBC World Service with an estimated 60 million listeners worldwide weekly was going to rerun the Tape Hunt episode (*The hunt for a calypso king's lost music") that he had co-produced back in 2019.
The airing was scheduled for this monday, and in the US, Cihan Bilginsoy, a professor of Economics at the University of Utah an his wife were tuning in by chance. A few minutes into the show they recognized the artist's name and the music - it was the artist from an obscure cassette they had bought 20 years ago in Costa Rica. Cihan and his wife learned about our project to track down and "repatriate" Don Walter's musical legacy, hopped on the internet and got in touch with us.
University of Utah professor and tape owner Cihan Bilginsoy is specailzed in dynamics of economic crashes.
(Pictures: Mario Chacon (left), Salt Lake City Weekly (right))
"in February 2002 we purchased the tape in a restaurant in Puerto Viejo. I remember it was a small restaurant run by a woman, serving fish, beans and rice. We asked about the music that was playing in the background while we had our meal and she came back with that cassette and sold it to us. I do not know if she had a stack but she brought out only one cassette., The tracklist was handwritten on the J-card and I recall it was the same handwriting I saw on your website today. Unfortunately, I cannot locate the cassette after some 20 years. But I had recorded the music on a CD. I still have the CD. I am happy to share it and it gives me great pleasure to know that Don Walter and his family will be listening to this lost & found tape soon!"
The recordings from Cihan's tape sound real fresh. Don Walter's voice is in excellent shape. If it was recorded around 2002, it might be one of the last recording sessions from Don Walter's home recording career - spanning 25 plus years - because around 2002 Don Walter stopped to record and sell his one-off tapes, because by the close of the year his first professional CD ("Babylon") was in production and cassettes were not in demand anymore. Argueably one of the last tapes that Don Walter ever sold to his fans personally was that of Mario Chacon, though Cihan's recording might be of the same period. To top it off, Cihan's tape contains a version of the rare song "No Bother To Cry" - when we first found that composition on a tape from Marcyn's Canadian Tapes, nobody in the Ferguson family could even remember it, including Don Walter. A real treat and another sound recording that will be "repatriated" to the grandfather of Costa Rican Calypso.
Cheers! And a joyful CALYPSO DAY in Costa Rica and beyond️
Enjoy the following video, containing heartwarming footage of Don Walter enjoying some of his recently recovered Calypsos - songs he hasn't heared in over 35 years:
"It so nice man - me never expect them song still alive". He remembered most of the recovered songs - the happy centenarian even managed to sing along - turning the listening session into a meeting of old friends after decades of separation. Still, a few songs came as a complete surprise, as he couldn't remember having written or performed them: "Me never remember song like them exist at all ... but the guitar is me playing!"
Now we could not have done this enormous digitalization work (over 50 hours of material) without all those generous donations we've received to our crowdfunding Campaign... The Tape Hunt Project, Manuel Monestel and of course Don Walter and his family are very thankful for all your kind support. Also big thanks to sound engineer Draxe who was in charge of the professional digitalisation.
Some of the recovered songs were included in the "Sneak Peek" reward (donations of $100 or more), which was sent to the donors yesterday - thank you again for your generosity and commitment to save Costa Rican cultural history!
And there is even more to celebrate: On 01.01.2021 it will be precisely four years that we have started the Tape Hunt, and three years since we've started our website and social media campaign.
Of course, 2020 was a turbulent year for obvious reasons, but still we were lucky enough to find and recover more tapes than in any other year - a task that would not have been able without our supporters.
Please stay tuned for more on this...
The statue was made by joung sculptor Minor Mena López shown in the top picture above. Because of the Covid pandemic only a few spectators gathered for the event hosted by the artist and Don Manuel Monestel (picture 2nd row left and center). As usual the living legend himslef was not attending, but was represented by family members (son and tape hunt initiator José Peck Ferguson, picture 2nd row on the right).
Since the early 1980s, Costa Rican researcher and musician Manuel Monestel freqeuntly travelled from the capital city San Jose to the the caribbean
village Cahuita to meet up with the legendary Calypso King Walter Gavitt
Ferguson a.k.a « Mr. Gavitt » or « Segundo ». Where others
had just seen an old modest man with guitar and tape recorder, Monestel
recognized a genious composer with a vast body of work and a unique artistic
expression. Thanks to the tireless work of Monestel to give Ferguson’s music a
national and international platform, the world is now able to grasp and enjoy
the beautiful musical universe of the « trovador de Cahuita ». And
with time, Monestel’s academic and artistic efforts also became an important
driver of the valorization of afrocostarican culture and the growing interest
in Calypso Limonense in Costa Rica nad beyond.
By the mid 1980s, the two men had naturally become very good friends. With Gavitt in his most productive phase, steadily composing new material and recording it on his legendary one-off cassettes, it is not surprising that Monestel occasionally got hold of a few of Gavitts tapes in all those years. But when we recently asked him to look around how many he could find, his answer blew our mind: «I’ve still got around 45 tapes and also a few recorded interviews with Gavitt.» «Oh my god ! This translates to roughly 3'000 minutes of material… » « Yes, I know. »
Needless to say, this is the biggest catch since we started the Walter Gavitt
Ferguson Tape Hunt : Besides being an invaluable testimony of time,
those 30 to 40 year-old cassettes also contain more of the unheared "lost Calypsos" that urgently need to be rescued from the slow but unstoppable decay
of the magnetic tape.
Now the huge task is to carefully digitalize those approximately 50 hours of historical recordings for the Tape Hunt archive of the Ferguson family. Also, a personal copy will be made for Gavitt, so he can once again hear his old and forgotten songs. The task will be performed by a professional sound engineer in San Jose, Costa Rica. To pay for the sound man’s services, we have started a crowdfunding campaign - donate here.
The raising of this treasure was also covered in Costa Ricas newspaper La Nacion - read here.
Thank you for your kind support!
The official stamps are depicting "Musicos y compositores nacionales": Besides the internationally known Calypso King Walter Gavitt Ferguson (stamp of 1'215.00 Colones), there is a stamp with writer and folclorist María Mayela Padilla (stamp of 720.00 Colones) and one with Martha Fonseca y Bernal Villegas of the rock duo "Suite Doble" (stamp of 825.00 Colones). The stamps were issued on May 29th 2020. To obtain these stamps please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Unlike his 100th birthday a year ago, which was celebrated all over the country, nobody will shake his hands today... The lockdown was a heavy blow for the retired Calypso King, as the Ferguson family lives off a small cabin rental business in Cahuita that can't survive without tourism. The ongoing fundraiser and the new Benefit Album "Keep the Cabin Above The Wata" are a big help to ease the financial pressure.
Today is also the second time that Costa Rica celebrates National Calypso Day. And despite the Lockdown, you can still celebrate Calypso Day at home - this is why we have put together a mix full of Limonense Calypso. So just press play and get in the mood.Muchas Gracias a Ramon Morales de Leche de Coco Calypso y a Jorge Salazar Navarro por contribuir a este mix.
The cover shows a photo of the actual "Cabin in the Wata" which was built by a fisherman called Bato as he refused to move away from his land when Cahuita National Park was created by the Government in 1970. You can listen to Don Walter recounting the whole story of the "Cabin in the Wata" in the following video (in spanish, thanks to Tania Robles):
When Portuguese photographer and film maker João Silva returned to Lisbon from an extended trip to Costa Rica, where he had helped to create the South Caribe Roots Archive, he must have had hundreds of great photos in his luggage, many of them portraits of local people.
Back in Lisbon, he met up with his friend, artist and singer Pedro do Vale, an internationally renowned painter of big, photrealistic portraits. The two friends looked through João's portrait photos for inspiration and Pedro's eyes soon fell on a picture showing an old man from Cahuita with a unique facial expression. Pedro liked it and decided to paint it. which he had interviewed for the Roots Archive.
It took Pedro do Vale about two months to finish his amazing portrait of Don Walter. This great piece of art is still in Lisbon today, belonging to the artist.
Although Walter Ferguson, 100 year old Calypso legend of Costa Rica and author of „Cabin in the water“, has touched many lives across the globe with his music, has never been able to live from it: For the last four decades, Don Walter and family have been living off a small cabin rental business in their hometown Cahuita.
In all these years, the Fergusons have welcomed countless tourists from all over the world in the traditional guesthouse „Sol Y Mar“ and the romantic „Riverside“ cabins. By offering guided tours, the Fergusons helped visitors to discover the caribbean beaches, local culture and the rich wildlife surrounding Cahuita.
Now, as COVID-19 CRISIS has stopped tourism completely, the Fergusons are affected badly and struggling hard. They urgently need financial support to make ends meet and to hold on to
their business, their life’s work and their home for over a century.
DONATE to the fundraiser
Donate 6 Euros or more & get a free download of the exclusive BENEFIT album «KEEP THE CABIN ABOVE THE WATA» featuring Tape Hunt recordings by Calypso King Walter Gavitt Ferguson. The new album contains a wealth of beautiful "Best Of" material recorded between 1979 and 1998.
"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".
The latest episode of For Keeps: A Podcast About Collections And Connections hailing from San Francisco USA, is dedicated to The Walter Gavitt Ferguson "Tape Hunt".
Thanks to all involved, stay healthy and bless up!
After a warm welcome we all sat down and Mario explained us how he had
aquired his tape personally from Don Walter in August 2002: Like
hundreds of travellers and music lovers before him, Mario knocked the
gates to Gavitt's house and shortly after was greeted by the King
himself. Mario introduced himself and mentioned that he was interested
in buying some of his music. The 83 year old Calypsonian explained that
he had just finished a lenghty recording session (it would become the
album, all recorded in Gavitt's house because of his refusal to go to a
city studio), but unfortunately that recording was not yet available.
There was a pause, Mario felt slightly disappointed and the Calypsonian
scrached his head. Then, all of a sudden, Gavitt lit up, told Mario to
wait right there, turned around and went back in the house. After a few
minutes Gavitt reappeared at the gate with a smile on his face, a
cassette in his hand and added: "Tres mil quiniento Colones." Though
Mario didn't have a cassette player at the time, he thanked Gavitt and
bought the tape straight away... It is a fact, that after his first CD
was on the market in 2003, Don Walter stopped recording cassettes and
sold CDs instead, so Mario's tape may well be the very last of his
unique self-recorded tapes that the Calypso King ever sold on his
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)
In 2017, nine original tapes were located in Canada:
In 2018, six original tapes were found in Costa Rica:
In March 2019, five original tapes were recovered in the USA:
In May 2019, unreleased parts from Don Walter's "Folkways" album were donated to the Tape Hunt:
In January 2020, another five original tapes were found in Costa Rica:
In October 2020, the biggest catch containing 45 original tapes was unearthed in Costa Rica: