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When I first arrived in Nicoya, I didn’t have many friends. I worried about what would happen to my social life. I was used to grabbing a beer in La Cali, a bite in Escalante, heading to Cine Magaly and, most importantly, karaoke bars. For years I’ve used karaoke bars to forge the most important friendships that I have. I arrived here looking for a place to sing because I knew that, in effect, all it takes is a couple of songs to become lifelong friends.
It turns out that things were different here. A colleague told me, “There’s karaoke on Wednesdays at Más Coyol and Fridays at Guaya.” She explained there aren’t “karaoke bars” here; there are angels that carry the magic around with them: Karaoke DJs with turntables, computer, screens, videobeams, and sound systems. They acquire the tracks and lyrics in their homes and take them to where singers need them. They look for songs, buy them, set the scene, make people happy, patiently listen to both talented and off-tune singers and, at the end of the night, pick it all up and leave. And all this magic ends up in the hoarse throats and the spirits of all of us who lived it.
There are a lot of different types: of DJs: those with a lot of equipment, those with formal businesses, some who only do it as a hobby. Others are DJs only at night because they have a serious, formal job from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. These DJs can earn from ¢60,000 up to ¢160,000 over more than eight hours in which they use their own equipment. I had the pleasure of meeting three of them: DJ Nany Martinez, DJ Rony Baltodano, and DJ Profe (Royner Rodriguez) who, in addition to playing all the songs I asked for, helped me to understand what they do.
This is a tribute to these men, to whom we owe the happiest nights in Nicoya.
This boots were made for walking. DJ Profe (Royner Francisco Rodriguez Castro) and his assistant Adam Gomez brought everything from Hojancha in a van. The karaoke starts at 8 p.m., but they arrived at 2 p.m. In rural dance halls, setup and preparation are much more elaborate than in urban bars. These halls don’t have their own sound system or projection screens, so they start setting up from scratch.
Ain’t no mountain high enough. They finish setting up the dance hall long before the karaoke starts. The computer and turntable are ready. Occasionally they satisfy the folks at the bar with a song or two while they set up. They leave everything in standby while they drink a beer, shower, and change clothes.
Patience. The most passionate and veteran singers arrive first. DJ Profe told me that some people don’t miss a single show and follow their favorite DJs wherever they go. These two singers patiently wait for DJ Profe to kick things off. They wait, beer in hand, for him to play the songs they have rehearsed for so long. They wait outside, because it’s so hot inside.
Take on me.It seems that, to be a good karaoke singer, you have to give yourself to the music. Attitude is much more important than being in tune and having a musical ear. With charisma and projection you’ll win the crowd over. Singing a song that a lot of people know helps: if everyone is singing, the feeling of community is much greater and nobody notices any lack of talent.
Nothing Compares To You. A DJ’s work during the show is to find singers, take requests, program songs, get the party going, and support everyone. It’s like a good coach who wants everyone to participate and for everyone to want to sing. At times, he gets distracted with technical tasks and forgets to enjoy the scene.
I believe I can fly. Karaoke Djs are some sort of alchemists. They make us, regular folks, become bright luminous stars (at least for the time we’re holding the mic). While we’re singing, we forget who we are, and we become something else, something wonderful. And that, my friends, that is a miracle.