Calypso legend and King of home-recording Walter Ferguson, ca. 1990. Photo by Guillermo Badilla.
Born on May 7th in 1919, he has been making music beside his life as a rural cacao and banana farmer, his musical career spanning over seven decades. His international reputation grew, when he started to sell self-recorded cassettes (tapes) containing unique recording sessions to travellers and music lovers.
Don Walter recorded his music on audio cassettes in the 1970s, 80s and 90s and sold them to travellers visiting his hometown Cahuita. He never kept a copy for himself. Fotorama from the biographic documentary "Walter Ferguson - The Father of Calypso".
Today Don Walter's work is considered to be an outstanding example of Afro-Caribbean culture. He is an important figure for the valorization and integration of black culture in Costa Rica. Calypso Limonense has become a part of national cultural heritage, with Don Walter Ferguson being its patron. Although he can’t play himself anymore today, many people, black and white, are singing his Calypsos today. In his honor, the annual Festival International de Calypso Walter Ferguson is taking place in Cahuita and the President of Costa Rica is a regular guest on his couch.
In Costa Rica, Don Walter's 100th birthday was at the center of attention for a whole week and was celebrated across the country and his birthday was proclaimed National Calypso Day by the Government - in honour of his life-long contribution to the country’s culture. Moreover, an international tribute album was recently issued, featuring artists from Trinidad, Haiti, Benin, Honduras, Brasil, Uruguay, Peru, Chile and Spain with their interpretations of his songs.Walter Gavitt Ferguson ca. 1998. Photo by Francoise Kühn de Anta
The international Tape Hunt was started in early 2017 by Don Walter's youngest son Peck Ferguson and world music aficionado Niels Werdenberg in order to save Don Walter's musical legacy for the future.
José Peck Ferguson and Niels Werdenberg in 2017
Up to today, the project was able to rescue 62 previously unreleased compositions by Walter Ferguson from oblivion by tracking down a total of 82 unique cassettes worldwide - and still there are probably more songs missing. Among the rescued material are brilliant tapes coming from Canada and Costa Rica, unreleased historic recordings from US musicologist Michael Williams, from Costa Rican researcher and musician Manuel Monestel and from US author Paula Palmer. Thanks to the Tape Hunt, the blind Calypsonian can once again enjoy a wealth of his long lost songs.
The Tape Hunt continues to search for surviving tapes: We hope to find more original tapes in Europe, the USA, Canada, etc. Our network is steadily expanding, awareness is raised through social media and our story has been covered in many articles, television and radio programs (recently by The Guardian and the BBC World Service). Moreover, The Walter Gavitt Ferguson Tape Hunt was officially declared of cultural interest by the Government of Costa Rica.
Step by step we are making Don Walter's lost & found Calypsos available to an international audience in collaboration with record labels. Check out "The legendary Tape Recordings" here.
Help the Ferguson family track down Don Walter's old tape recordings before they get lost forever!