Jorge Zeledon: The Nicoyan Who Makes Music from Cachimbo Wood

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When asked if he is one of the best marimba players in Nicoya, Jorge Zeledon denies it, but there is a pause after he answers, a nervous look and a slight smile that subtly suggest that his more than 50 years of experience playing mean he’s no ordinarymusician.

Zeledon’s birthday is on his mind; he happily reports that on July 7 he will turn 80 years old. However, the number of marimbas he has built during his lifetime is one that he has lost track of.

His interest in the marimba wasn’t a hobby he had since childhood, nor something heinherited from his parents or grandparents. His attraction to the instrument began when he was 20 years old, as a distraction in his free time.

“My neighbors had a marimba, so we started messing around there and we began toplay little pieces, and well, afterward I got interested in marimba and never let it go,”relates the Nicoyan between chuckles.

As he practiced more, he realized that the songs were sounding better all the time. Meanwhile, more opportunities started to come up for his group of friends to play at fiestas.

“They started inviting us to play and there we’d go with our marimba on our shoulders. At that time there weren’t even cars; there were only horses, and so we’d carry it. It was a three-person marimba, so each one took a part, because it was a marimba that was in pieces,” remembers Zeledon.


From Marimbista to Luthier

His schedule of events grew, and Zeledon noticed that the marimbas needed repairs –there were notes that were off and not all sounded the same as they had at first. So he decided to start building his own instruments. 

According to the luthier– the name for those who build or repair instruments– the bestwood to make marimbas is cachimbo.

“The most difficult part of making a marimba is having the ear to tune it. Any carpenter can build a marimba, but it’s not just anyone who can tune it,” Zeledon explained.

With time, in addition to building his own marimbas, he started to make others to sell to make extra money, helping to supplement his income as a farmer.

Although he has never been to a music school, Jorge Zeledon has music in his blood. He has made efforts to spread his passion for the marimba, but he says that , less and less youths are getting excited about the instrument.

He taught his seven children to play the percussion instrument, but none of them wereas captivated by the marimba as Zeledon 

“Almost all of them learned how to play, but they started to feel that the marimba is something old-fashioned. I’ve invited my children to play a bit here and there, but they say, ‘No, no, that’s old-fashioned,’” Zeledon says, laughing.

With more than five decades of experience bringing life to fiestas, Zeledon knows that the song “Espiritu Guanacasteco” can get any party started; it is one of the most requested. But the Nicoyan thinks that marimba is being requested less and less at festivities.

“There was a time when all the celebrations had marimbas: weddings, prayer gatherings, all the parties. But with time, schools installed sound systems, so theyplayed music CDs and in that way enthusiasm for the marimba began to wane.”

When asked what is most exciting about playing the marimba, he becomes quiet againand lowers his gaze, but this time, he gathers momentum, picks up his mallets and says, “I like to add flavor to a piece– if you play lazily, the music doesn’t sound good.” Seconds later, he plays “Punto Guanacasteco” on his marimba.

For information about marimbas: 2686-6636