Day 27: A quest for the lost tapes of a music legend

My husband and I were strolling through the Costa Rican Caribbean town of Cahuita years ago when we spotted an unmistakable figure: music legend Walter Gavitt Ferguson, just sitting on his front porch. Costa Ricans tend to take close encounters with national heroes in stride – natural enough, in a country of five million – but I was practically struck dumb in the presence of this person whose voice had enchanted me for years. My fussing was out of place in the southern Caribbean, where conversations are mellow and steps are slow. It’s not a landscape that lends itself to big egos or dramatic scenes.

That’s why it’s so easy to imagine that don Walter, during the 70s, 80s and 90s, simply gave away or sold one-of-a-kind cassette tapes of his original recording sessions to tourists and music lovers. He never made copies for himself: he simply sent his work out into the world, one priceless plastic case at a time. In 2017, his youngest son, Peck, and world music aficionado Niels Werdenberg teamed up to ask the world to return the favor. Send a long-lost Ferguson tape to them, and they’ll compile the work into a digital archive, preserving Ferguson’s work for new generations.

By don Walter’s 100th birthday earlier this year, the Walter Gavitt Ferguson Tape Hunt had already rescued more than 60 original songs from tapes sent in by music lovers around the world. However, they estimate there are still many dozens of songs out there, undiscovered – and don Walter has forgotten much of his repertoire, making the missing tapes a crucial piece of the puzzle.


Want to help? You can: simply by sharing the story. You never know who might see your post. It might just come to the attention of another music lover out there whose memories, like mine, hold a lazy Cahuita afternoon and a brush with a legend. That person may even have a cassette stashed in a drawer that is just waiting to share the treasure within: that warm, wry smile of a voice, soaked in sun and rough with sea salt, traveling the world, ever dreaming of Limón.

Read more: Many thanks to my old friend and massive Ferguson fan Tammy Zibners, who saw that I mentioned don Walter in a Daily Boost last week and tagged the Tape Hunt so I could learn about this amazing project. And here’s a little taste of that voice:

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! You can also find me churning out small, square poems on any topic under the sun (here on the site, on Instagram or Twitter). 



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