Music is a major part of any country’s culture and identity and the music and musical instruments of Costa Rica is no exception. In Costa Rica its a medium to convey the history, traditions, and even a way for them to express their emotions and desires.
Costa Rica has both musical instruments that are from Costa Rica and others that have been incorporated into its musical style of the years. Costa Rica has collection of 6 musical instruments that include, the Quijongo, Ocarina, Carraca, Marimba, Chirimia, Maracas, all of which are used in such a way as to produce sound that is distinctly theirs.
Today, we’ll be taking a closer look at these instruments, what they are made of and the sound each of them makes.
What are the Instruments used in Costa Rica?
Like many other countries in Central and South America, music is an integral part of Costa Rican culture. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a major celebration in Latin America that is completely silent.
The country’s music is derived mostly from Spanish and African music, but is also influenced by the surrounding countries, such as Mexico, Cuba and Jamaica.
Despite the distinct sounds Costa Rica makes, however, the country never actually developed its own distinct music type, but rather created its own style by mixing and matching various Latin American music with African and Spanish influences.
There are certain native tribes that have produced their own unique sounds through the centuries, but they very rarely get much attention these days.
Here is a list of some of the instruments used by Costa Rican musicians.
More than just a musical instrument, the Quijongo is also a cultural item made by Costa Rica’s indigenous tribes. The Quijongo is a type of musical bow that is about 140 cm (16 inches) in length.
It is made from flexible wood that is slightly bent, with a string stretched between either end. The string itself is usually made from metal. At about one-third along the length of the instrument, there’s a gourd, usually a calabaza or jicara, that is tied to it that serves as a resonator.
You play the Quijongo by striking the string itself with a stick, and you can adjust the pitch by covering the hole on the gourd partially or completely. It can also be played inside a box, which drastically changes the sound it produces.
If you’ve played one of the Zelda games before, then you should be familiar with the Ocarina. The ocarina is a type of wind instrument, similar to a flute, but wider and produces a very different tune.
This instrument is very old, with some archaeological evidence suggesting that people have been playing them for over 12,000 years. The ocarina isn’t unique to Costa Rica. In fact, a very similar instrument was also developed independently in ancient China. The instruments that you usually find in Costa Rica are of Aztec origin.
The ocarina played by Costa Ricans usually take the form of animals, most commonly the toucan. It has anywhere between 2 – 6 holes, making it possible to produce as many as 7 different tones by covering any combination of these holes with your fingers.
One of the more unusual instruments in Costa Rica is the Carraca. Carraca basically translates as “rattle”, which gives you an idea of the type of sounds these instruments make.
Its other name, Quijada de Burro, means jaw of the donkey, pretty much gives you an idea of what it actually is. The Carraca is made from donkey jawbones, though it’s sometimes made from horse jawbones as well. Despite its very simplistic design, the Carraca produces rich sounds when struck.
If you’re going to talk about Costa Rica’s musical instruments, you can’t have a conversation without mentioning the Marimba. The Marimba is considered to be Costa Rica’s national musical instrument and has been designated as such in 1996.
It was first introduced to Costa Rica in the 18th century and has since been used widely in the country whenever traditional music is concerned. It is played during religious, social and cultural celebrations.
Although the Marimba has had significant effects on Costa Rica culture, it didn’t actually originate within the country, nor anywhere else in the New World. Rather, its ancestor was brought over to Latin America by African Slaves.
The Marimba is a percussion instrument, which in its most basic terms means it creates sound when you hit it. In this case, you hit the instrument with two hammers, both of which are tipped with balls made of wood, plastic, stone or even rubber.
Much like a xylophone, the Marimba has wooden strips of varying lengths and sizes right next to one another, forming the keys. The wooden strips produce a different sound depending on its size. Much like the Quijongo, the Marimba also has numerous resonators beneath each key, usually a gourd. Some Marimbas have two keyboards, depending on how big it is.
Another wind instrument used in Costa Rican music is the Chirimia. The Chirimia is best described as a native-made oboe. In fact, it’s actually based on the European oboe, which was brought over to Central America by the Spanish clergy during the 1500’s through the 1600’s. The Chirimia has a very religious background, normally used during religious processions and accompanied by drums.
This instrument is made from wood and can have anywhere between 6 – 10 holes. Covering any combination of these holes produces varying tones. Although the Chirimia itself is not unique to Costa Rica, the music it produces does vary from one region of Latin America to another, and Costa Rica’s Chirimias have its own unique tune.
Another musical instrument that is uniquely Latin American are the Maracas. The Maracas are a type of rattle that is very prevalent in Latin American music, which each country having its own design unique to it. Sound is produced by shaking the handle and is usually played in pairs.
The Maracas are made from round calabash fruits which are then filled with pebbles or balls made of leather or wood. These pebble-filled gourds are then fitted with handles.
The Costa Rican version of Maracas have a distinct shape, with its gourds being rounder and larger than other Latin American Maracas. The gourds are also painted with vibrant colors. The handles themselves are usually connected with a piece of string between them.