Afro Caribbean Steel Drums in Limon
Afro Caribbean Steel Drums in Limon

Living in the rainforest of Costa Rica, I may not have immediate access to music like you imagine, but I get to hear some of the most beautiful natural harmonies in the world. From the birds chirping tunes to monkeys howling in unison, nature is one of the greatest places to find entertainment. Costa Rica has a long tradition of folklore music that is unparalleled, and modern music is similarly as unique. You'll find people dancing the night away to salsa, meringue or cumbia rhythms in discos every weekend. Sometimes you just can't help yourself but join in on the fun! As one of the most vibrant parts of Costa Rica culture, I'd like to share with you the history and background of all the sounds you hear looming across the country.

Traditional Costa Rican Dancing in Guanacaste
Traditional Costa Rican Dancing in Guanacaste

Traditional Costa Rican music is well-representative of the country's diverse population and culture. Considered to be somewhat of a melting pot, Costa Rica combines the best of Latin American, African, European and native traditions to create unique sounds. On the east side of the country, Afro-Caribbean stylings are quite popular, and it's common to hear Reggae, Rumba and Calypso music coming from the speakers of native Ticos.

Pre-Columbian influences

The traditional folk music of Costa Rica dates back to pre-Columbian times. For example, the Ocarina is an ancient flute-like instrument that dates back 12,000 years. Similar instruments are present in Mayan, Aztec and Chinese culture as well. An instrument called the marimba was also used widely by early Costa Rican people. With a series of wooden keys, this instrument was used by multiple people at once who used mallets to produce sound. If you are able to attend one of the music festivals in Costa Rica during your trip, you may even get a chance to see one of these being played, as they are still used today.

Concert at Fiesta de Palmares 2012 (courtesy of www.fiestaspalmares.com)
Concert at Fiesta de Palmares 2012 (courtesy of www.fiestaspalmares.com)

Regional music styles

Music is prevalent all across the country, but whenever I want to hear the best of the best, I travel to Guanacaste, Central Valley, Limon or San Isidro del General. Considered to be some of the powerhouses of music culture in Costa Rica, any audiophile should find Costa Rica hotels in one of these regions. Guanacaste is probably the most important of them all, boasting Cuban, Columbian, Nicaraguan, Panamanian and Spanish influences. People here use the marimba and embrace traditional and old-world rhythms.

Las Rosas Album, by Melanie Edwards, Costa Rica Sounds
Las Rosas Album, by Melanie Edwards, Costa Rica Sounds

One of my favorite places to travel for music is San Isidro del General because it is a small town whose history is unique from much of Costa Rica. The music here is very different than the rest of the country, as it combines Creole beats with peasant music. You will see a lot of violins, mandolins, accordions and guitars in this city.

Festivals

Depending on what time of the year you are traveling to Costa Rica, you should plan to attend an annual festival. This is truly the best way to get to know the rich culture of music here! In January, the Santa Cruz Fiestas is a great time to learn about traditional folk music and watch native dancing in the streets. This event is in honor of the Black Christ of Esquipulas. If you come during March, make sure to head to Limon for the Caribbean Music Festival when African and Caribbean styles are celebrated. During the month of October, you'll have your pick from Fiesta del Maiz, the International Guitar Festival and Limon Carnival to attend. But the best month out of the year to travel for music is December. This is Costa Rica's biggest month for music! Fiesta de los Diablitos, Christmas Choir Festival, the Lights Festival, Fiesta de los Negritos, the International Dance Festival and end of the year festivals all take place during this month.

Guitarist Playing Rock Music
Guitarist Playing Rock Music

Nature Sounds

Finding inspiration from the sounds of Costa Rican nature, Melanie Edwards is an international musician who blends her knowledge of science into music. Edwards spent the winter writing and recording in Costa Rica on her sixth solo effort that uses experimental and ambient noises from cloud mountains, beaches and rain forests throughout the country.

Edwards studied nuclear science and is a classically trained pianist. Combing her passions, Edwards has been able to break down barriers and contribute to the unique musical landscape that comes from Costa Rica. Her upcoming release, "Las Rosas", chronicles her travels through Costa Rica with sounds of birds, insects and waterfalls in Tortuguero, Guanacaste and Nicoya.

Costa Rica is often overlooked in terms of its vibrant musical culture, but to me it is one of the most important aspects of the culture here. Music is everywhere, and I'd love to hear your story about the music and nature sounds you experienced while vacationing in Costa Rica!


Sounds by Nature by Melanie Edwards
Sounds by Nature by Melanie Edwards