Costa Rica may be known for its thousands of acres of flora and fauna and as a favorite eco-tourist destination, but now it will be known for its love of the marimba. Last week on March 2, 2017, Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis declared the percussive instrument a national symbol of the country’s folklore and culture.
The President’s declaration also noted November 30th of each year, as the day the country celebrates the marimba and its contributions to Costa Rica. Often called the “piano of the Americas” the marimba was already recognized as the country’s National Musical Instrument in 1996 and is often used in celebrations, holidays and festive occasions. Guanacaste, Costa Rica is considered the home of the marimba. The marimba is to Costa Rica what the bagpipes are to Scotland.
The origin of the marimba in Costa Rica and to all of Central America has always been up for debate. Some believe the Spaniards brought the instrument with them when they came to conquered the Americas, others believe African slaves brought the instrument with them on slave ships.
The marimba is made of suspended wooden strips horizontally placed beside each other forming keys, each producing a different sound when hit by a mallet. The instrument has an octave range from 4 to 6 octaves depending on the size of the marimba, the sound is amplified by the aluminum tubes located below each key. Marimbas are played by one to three musicians known as marimbists.
Famous marimba musicians include Julius Wechter founder of The Baja Marimba Band featured in numerous TV game shows, Dave Pike, and Makoto Nakura who is a global star for his solo marimba performances.
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