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Cultural History of a Nation: Nago de Nicoya

By Pinar Istek

Listen to his song while you read the article

He greeted me from behind an almost 30-year-old, rusty and tired Olympia typewriter at his place, which is a few blocks from the Samara Beach. He wasn't writing. Instead while listening to the waves, he was reading one of his many books. The smell of the ocean was blending into the smell of the old book pages.

His name is Nago de Nicoya, a singer, composer and a folklorist. Nago is the abbreviation of Abdénago (Abednego in English), a Biblical name. As his nick-name implies, Nago is from Nicoya. He has a 20-page-long résumé.


Working with the Costa Rican Ministry of Culture from 1972 to 2008, creating the first national seminary of folklore, opening of houses of culture in Limon, Nicoya, Santa Cruz, Las Juntas de Abangares, starting the first culture weeks in the country, and creating the first national music fair are among his many achievements. He is also one of the creators of Matambú, a Chorotega Indigenous reservation, in Hojancha, Guanacaste.

My own first acquaintance with Nago doesn't date back more than a month. On March 26, when the first and the youngest symphony orchestra of Guanacaste performed a concert in Samara, he had given a moving speech about this orchestra. Even though he is not the founder of the orchestra, he was one of the early visionaries with the idea of creating the orchestra more than a decade ago, and so the concert was dedicated to him.

The deep, wise lines forming around his maroon eyes don't say much about his age. In fact, he refuses to utter his age. Instead, "I have never believed in age," he said. "Because the age doesn't exist. It is a number. Only sleeping, going to bed, getting up exist."

Nago, who has been singing since kindergarten, left home early in life to follow his childhood pursuit. "I am like any other person of the world who left a rural area and went to the capital in search of hope, a light that would let me find myself." Arriving in the city with the intention of studying classical music, opera, and piano, Nago ended up going to a technical college, Colegio Vocacional Monseñor Sanabria before 1970, due to the quota on admissions to the conservatory.

Since this college didn't feel right for him and "had nothing to do with" him, he went on to a career of singing rock music with the band, Los Beast Boys, he founded while still in college. While the band played many covers, a hit, Azulito, came from Nago de Nicoya as a solo singer.


After singing rock for three years, "A moment came when I felt tired of singing music that I wasn't feeling. I didn't want to go back to music that I didn't feel anything about," he said.

This was when he started to get involved with lyric music and folklore. "So I started to compose my own music, dedicated to the people of my country, people who have fundamental characteristics within the society," he said. "I think, in music I was the first one who took an element from the street and put it in the music, the albums and on TV." His single, Azulito, which was about a transient who collected blue colored trash put it on his head, is a good example of his work. He also hosted a TV show called La Costa Rica Que Usted No Conoce (The Costa Rica You Don't Know) on Channel 7.
Attracting audience attention with his novel approach, he later enriched his performances with the addition of folkloric dance.

Taking A Break
In 1975, Nago's world travels began with the group of artists he brought together under the name CURIME. Starting in Spain, throughout his career, Nago traveled all the continents, but Australia. The song Mundos de Amigos was one of the biggest successes of this artistic group.

During his travels, key people he met led him to complete his unfinished education -- this time with a focus on radio, television, tourism and folklore. In Madrid, he studied with María Josefa Sampelayo, one of the most recognized folklorists in the world.

After finishing his degree in Spain, and up to today, Nago's career has been full of international and national tributes to him and groups and organizations that he has been associated with, recognitions, awards and successful projects. Among his achievments are the creation of Museo del Minero de Las Juntas de Abangares, the founding of CIOFF-UNESCO in the Americas and of Curime, one of the first cultural foundations in Costa Rica.


But, with all his recognition and awards, Nago is frustrated that he has not been able to achieve all his dreams for his country. He sees that a lot could be done for this country but nobody does it. His attempts to open a national theatre and a traditional culture library in San José encountered legal obstacles, presented by the local government. Today, including the buildings, his archive of a lifetime is held by the local government.

Nago says, "I came here (to Samara) to suffer in silence. After going to all those places and doing so many things for my country I feel disappointed. I came here to be in silence. I am trying to heal my situation. I was in the middle of a lot of things. I have managed to leave anguish and sadness. I have been working little by little."

Yet, and while he says he is "on a break," he has been hosting a radio show, called Nago de Nicoya: Historia, Leyenda y Tradicion (Nago of Nicoya: History, Legend and Tradition) on the local radio station, Radio Sistema Cultural (1600 AM ) on Saturdays at 11:00 a.m. Also, he is starting to participate in some local projects such as a consulting office of culture in Guanaparque at Carillo Beach.

He lives in Samara with his wife, Patricia, who is a professor of ballet with a degree from English Royal Academy.

The Spanish phrase un montón which means loads of is a good one to express Nago's work. His is a life that is full of music, arts, studies and travels. A life that is fulfilled, yet still has many dreams waiting to come true…Waiting by the beach, he is on a break now, hoping to get back on track to fulfill what is left on the to do list.



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