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Noble Patria (Noble Homeland)

Costa Rica flagBy Nancy Buchan

For the Ticos and for those of us lucky enough to live in or be visiting this beautiful country, watching the World Cup soccer games last month was a proud and exciting thing. The Costa Rican Sele team played great, and made it clear to all that it was no fluke that they had gotten farther in the elimination process than ever before in their history. They played with discipline and skill and team spirit and HEART! It was big fun to be part of the ecstatic and giddy partiers celebrating their dreams. One of the best things about the whole soccer mania time was how cool the Ticos were about their eventual loss to the Netherlands. No one whined about losing, or blamed the referees or made unnecessary excuses – folks here were gracious and proud of their athletes and their country. Even for the folks who thought they didn’t like soccer, it was infectious fun to be part of!

At the start of each game they play the two teams national anthems – it’s a big moment in front of the whole world, and the rest of us can only imagine what it must be like for the players to stand there hearing folks singing along and cheering for them. They mostly look determined and focused and a bit fidgety . . .

I think Costa Rica’s anthem is quite beautiful, both in musical content and in the lyrics – it is, of course, somewhat march-like but has a pretty softer part midway through that is sort of dreamlike. The song is written in E flat – 3 flats in the key signature – kind of unusual for songs of this type as they are usually written in major keys. Here are the English lyrics to Noble Patria (Noble Homeland) for the folks that aren’t familiar with it:

“Noble homeland, your beautiful flag proof of the life it gives us. Under the unsullied blue of your skies, Peace reigns, white and pure. In the tenacious struggle of fruitful toil, that which brings a glow to men’s faces, Your sons, simple farm hands, gained eternal renown, esteem and honor. Eternal renown, esteem and honor.
Hail, gentle homeland! Hail loving mother!
When anyone should attempt to besmirch your glory, you will see your people, valiant and virile, transform the rustic tool into a weapon.
Hail O homeland!
Your prodigal soil gives us sweet shelter and sustenance.
Under the unsullied blue of your sky, May peaceful labor ever continue!”

The history of this song is pretty interesting. In 1852, ambassadors from Great Britain and the United States were coming to Costa Rica to discuss trade and boundaries, and the president at the time, Juan Rafael Mora Porras, realized that they didn’t have a national song to greet their guests with. This seemed like a huge problem to the prez, as Costa Rica wanted to be recognized by the world as a separate and sovereign nation in Central America. So he went to the leader of Costa Rica’s national army band, a guy named Manuel Maria Gutierrez, as he had a reputation as being the country’s foremost working musician. Gutierrez said he was not a composer, just a simple musician, and refused the presidents’ request. So Porras threw his butt in jail and said he would be released when he came up with a great song. Of course the history books (if they mention this at all) claim it was to keep him from being distracted, but however you want to spin it, these tactics worked, and Gutierrez wrote the music in 3 days. Obviously he was inspired and motivated Twenty some years later, a Columbian poet wrote lyrics that celebrated Costa Rica’s independence from Spain – military type bragging and posturing. Then another version was written about CR’s self-defense from foreign invasions, specifically from notorious William Walker’s attempt to make Costa Rica a slave republic in 1856. Now, if you don’t know about this Nashville born slimeball and his attempts to turn Central America into his own personal kingdom, complete with slavery, and his well-financed arrogance in declaring himself king, then look up this sad time in American and Costa Rican relations. In 1856 Costa Rica rallied their people against him and he was defeated at a battle in Guanacaste, where a young drummer boy ran to the place they were hiding and set it on fire. The invaders were literally smoked out, and the young boy lost his life, only to become a hero to the Costa Rican people – his name was Juan Santamaria – now the name of the international airport in San Jose. Walker was jailed for a while, then released and later was executed by the Honduran government after he had declared himself president of that country and was trying to annex it as a slave territory for the southern U.S. But I digress….

In 1903 the government of CR decided that there should be new lyrics which better reflected the patriotic feelings of the people for their peaceful country, and the national contest was won by Jose Maria Zeledon Brenes. No one got around to declaring the new version the ‘official national anthem’ until 1949, but it is sung daily in school rooms and at sporting events and is an integral part of the Costa Rican national identity. You might hear a man greeting another guy with the phrase “Como va la lucha?” (How goes the struggle?). The reply is always “Tenaz!” (tenacious!) – usually with an ironic smile – they are quoting the lyrics to their national anthem and kind of poking fun at the naïve idealism behind those words at the same time.

Several websites devoted to the 2014 World Cup games were all about rating the different countries national anthems. They had several scoring categories – historical relevance, ease of memorization, national identity, musical catchiness and the emotional factor. ‘Noble Patria’ was rated basically in the middle – low on historical relevance, but fairly easy to memorize. Good melody, kind of bland lyrics but proud of the physical beauty of this country and of the work ethic of the people. There were a lot worse sounding anthems being played at the games and a lot with far less HEART!

The opening ceremony and hoopla surrounding the 2014 FIFA World Cup was like the Superbowl meets Carnival. They didn’t go completely crazy with samba-dancing nearly naked beautiful women, but there were plenty of them gyrating around anyway. Apparently they wanted the focus to be on slightly more important topics. As home to the largest rain forest on the planet, they started with a nature theme – stilt dancers who looked like trees and kids dressed like flowers. They had gigantic percussion instruments dancing around and attempted to show the ethnic diversity of the Brazilian people, from the indigenous people to the Portuguese to African to Spanish. Near the end there were dancing human soccer balls and then Jennifer Lopez, Cuban/American rapper Pitbull and Brazilian pop star Claudia Leitle sang the official song – We Are One (Ole Ola). The drum intro was pretty cool, but the song itself was barely mediocre and the lyrics seemed to contradict themselves. “Put your flags up in the sky, and wave them side to side. Show the world where you’re from – show the world we are one. When the going gets tough, the tough get going – one love, one life, one world, one fight, whole world, one night, one place – Brazil! Everybody put your flags in the sky and do what you feel!” So are we talking global unity here or nationalism? And that line about when the going gets tough….gag! There was no real homage to the rich musical heritage of the host country, and only a small part of the song was sung in Portuguese. There’s big money in all the recordings and videos and merchandising – I found a dozen different versions of songs on the internet, all saying they are the ‘official’ song of the games. Ah well, it was big fun here in our little part of the world – lots of pride and flag waving and a bit of beer drinking!

Come on out to the beautiful Roca Verde Bar and Restaurant in Dominical on Friday nights and enjoy the sounds of Ben Jammin’ and the Howlers! These monkeys also have a lot of HEART!

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I’m very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” Bill Shankly, Liverpool team manager.

“That’s great, tell him he’s Pele and get him back on!” John Lambie, team manager, when told a concussed player didn’t know who he was.

“The beauty of cup football is that Jack always has a chance of beating Goliath.” Former England captain Terry Butcher

“We didn’t underestimate them – they were just a lot better than we thought.” Bobby Robson after playing Cameroon at the 1990 World Cup.

Lifelong professional musician Nancy Buchan and her husband Charley built a house in Dominical 20 years ago, and moved there full time after Hurricane Katrina swept them out of their beloved New Orleans. Nancy plays her 5 string violin in a variety of situations – from rock and roll with Ben Jammin’ and the Howlers to jazz with C.R. pianist Manuel Obregon to Bach at beach weddings. She has been featured on over 50 cds and teaches violin at the Escuela de Musica Sinfonica in San Isidro. Contact her at [email protected].

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