When you love what you do and always give it your best, happiness comes naturally, and so do prizes. Nicoyan Abdenago Torres Melendez, better known as “Nago de Nicoya,” had known since childhood that his passion was music. Through hard, honest work he was able to build on his passion, which would later transform into his dedication to folklore. Today, 50 years later, UNESCO is recognizing the intangible but essential legacy of this Nicoyan.
Nago, who lives in Samara, will receive the Silver Medal for his pioneering work in the diffusion and continuation of Costa Rican culture and traditions throughout the world.
The distinction is the highest recognition given in the field of folklore by the International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and Folk Arts (CIOFF), an association that is part of UNESCO.
To better understand Nago’s enormous career and legacy, you have to start at the beginning.
Shortly after finishing high school and already solidifying his stature as a soloist and composer, he had his first big success: the song Azulito, which tells the story of a wanderer who collected blue-colored trash to wear on his head. “So I started to compose my own music, but dedicated to the people of my country, above all to the poor or people who have some fundamental importance to society,” Nago told The Voice of Guanacaste during an interview in 2011.
He was also the host of a TV program called, “The Costa Rica You Don’t Know” (La Costa Rica que usted no conoce), on channel 7. He was already part of the group of artists called CURIME, which was taking him all over the world. During those trips he saw a number of countries and later studied in Madrid with Maria Josefa Sampelayo, one of the world’s renowned folklorists.
Nago worked for the Ministry of Culture from 1972 until 2008. The first national folklore seminar, the opening of the Culture Houses in Limon, Nicoya, Santa Cruz and Las Juntas de Abangares, the first cultural weeks in the country and the first national music fair are some of his achievements. Nago is also one of the founders of Matambu, a Chorotega indigenous reserve in Hojancha, Guanacaste.
The First Costa Rican with a Silver Medal
Hans Leiton Gutierrez, the national delegate for CIOFF, proudly confirmed that Nago will be the first Costa Rican to win this prize, and he will be the fourth winner from the American continent.
“Nago is the honorary president of CIOFF Costa Rica; he was one of its founders on the American continent. This is a recognition of all the work that he’s done in his life, as a singer, folklorist and steward of our traditions. He has been one of the pioneers in the rescue and diffusion of culture with his group Curime, which was the first cultural group that opened the doors to today’s groups so Costa Rican could gain worldwide recognition,” explained Leiton.
Nago, always smiling, seemed very happy when he found out about the recognition, which will be given in January of 2016 in a ceremony organized by the Municipality of Nicoya and the Nicoyan Cultural Radio System.
“I have had a lot of encouragement and recognition in various parts of the world. But this prize is above all the rest because CIOFF is the most important cultural and folklore organization in the world. I am extremely happy,” he commented.
Leiton believes that the prize marks a precedent for the country and that it will make the organization pay more attention to the level of the country’s cultural and folkloric development.
Meanwhile, Nago continues doing what he loves: he hosts a radio program called Nago de Nicoya: History, Legend and Tradition, broadcasted on the 1600 AM frequency on Saturdays at 11 a.m. He is also a member of several local projects, such as a cultural office located in Guanaparque in Playa Carrillo, and helps organize the Samara Art Festival, an event that includes film, stories, folklore, photography, forums and dances.
He lives with his wife Patricia, a ballet teacher who graduated from the English Royal Academy. She is currently working to create the first Guanacastecan ballerinas from her studio.
With deep brown eyes and a wise gaze, Nago is always happy, willing to hold out his hand to anyone saying hi or congratulating him for his accomplishments. It’s better not to ask how old he is, as he likes to respond, “Age doesn’t exist. It is a number. Sleep, lying down and getting up exist.” And that’s exactly how Nago lives.
Nago dressed as a Samareñan in 1970 when he recorded his first album, which included the songs Azulito and Samara.