In This Issue

Guadalupe Urbina
Artist Activist from Costa Rica

UN The Madremontes who protect the land and animals
I.  INTRODUCTION

TO MANY COSTA RICANS GUADALUPE URBINA is a living cultural hero. From humble beginnings the gifted singer-songwriter went to Europe and “made it big”on the world music stage. Returning home she dedicated her life to sharing her success and creative knowledge with others. Today—despite three life-threatening battles with cancer—she continues to organize, sing, mentor, and inspire.

LUPE-Singing in Nederland with sunflowers

Throughout her adult life Guadalupe has worked with the children of the small towns and villages of Costa Rica. She understands the hardships of agricultural life, remembering how hard her mother worked to care for her children, home, and land:

I grew up in a rural community with very few tools and few financial resources to develop my skills. However, I had excellent motor skills and a capacity to observe life as one can in rural areas. I realized that if my creativity could be developed without any resources, it would be great for all poor rural children to have access to tools to meet and play with their environment and develop the skills that have given me so much in my life. We all learn by doingArt provides experiences that stimulate all the senses. These experiences enable children to have a broader perception of the events of life and allow them to face challenges with creativity and beauty.


I
I.  FUNDACION VOZ PROPIAI

2012-2014 ARTS-Creating background for theater piece, Madremonte

IN 1999 GUADALUPE FOUNDED THE COSTA RICAN not-for-profit organization Fundación Voz Propia1to work with children and focus on cultural identity and environmental sustainability. Voz Propia’s mission is to encourage the young people of Costa Rica to appreciate and strengthen their identity through music, art, poetry, and theater. While involved in many different types of projects, Voz Propia has been consistently developing, creating, and producing musicals and theatrical productions with children that relate to issues related to culture and the environment. The children participate in script development, they make their costumes, they paint the backdrops, they learn to sing, dance, act. They perform in towns and villages all over Costa Rica, as well as in major theaters and performance centers in Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose.

UN The masks for the performance

UN Children in Masks

Guadalupe’s work with Voz Propia has been widely recognized in magazine and newspaper articles in Costa Rica. In 2005 through Voz Propia, Guadalupe developed a musical called “Voices of Our Ancestors”with a group of children from a small village in the N.W. region of Guanacaste. La Nacion, the largest newspaper in Costa Rica, said the following about the production: This youth group is led and inspired by the renowned national folklorist Guadalupe Urbina, who created a work whose main feature is the artistic diversity that unites two cultural bridges divided by more than two thousand years. The musicians and composer started working on this project six months ago as a way to stimulate cultural diversity, youth and tradition.”

In 2006 a group of children from another village in Guanacaste performed “Voices of Our Ancestors”at the National Museum in San Jose. The performance was sponsored by the Minister of Public Education and was performed for students in schools all over Costa Rica’s capital. The magazine Perfil stated that this was a “story worth telling”because it demonstrates how the children of Guanacaste are united with their indigenous roots and their ancestors.

In 2010  Guadalupe researched African music and rhythms in Guanacaste. She then worked with dance students from an artistic conservatory in Liberia, exploring the music and rhythms through their bodies and creating a performance based on what they had learned.

Through Fundación Voz Propia, Guadalupe has realized her dream to provide opportunities to improve the lives of Guanacaste’s socially challenged children. Through artistic productions the children gain self-esteem and a sense of mastery that helps them appreciate who they are and what they can do in life. In her work she gives children the opportunities to have successful and creative experiences, to feel good about themselves, to “shine.”

III. GUANARED

2012-2014 -Children organizing books

GUADALUPE’S WORK HAS BEEN “SUSTAINABLE” over the years in that many of her former students have gone on to do similar projects with children in towns and villages all over Costa Rica. About 10 years ago Guadalupe decided to bring her former students together with community leaders in Costa Rica to explore forming a network. The result is GUANARED2, an organization that continues to this day as a network of support for creative artistic projects in Costa Rica, and her former students are now doing the work in communities she used to do. One of her former students, Olman Briceno, is now president of GUANARED.


IV.  FINCA SONADOR LONGO MAI

2012-2014 FAMILY-Sacred circle in our garden

IN 2012 GUADALUPE DECIDED TO MOVE to Finca Sonador / Longo Mai , a remote village 40 minutes outside of San Isidro, off the old Pacific Coast Highway between San Jose and Panama. The village was created during the Central American wars to provide a safe haven for refugees, first Nicaraguans and later Salvadorians who were at risk because of their political orientations. Guadalupe had already worked to help Longo Mai for nearly 20 years, fund raising in Europe, performing at the village’s annual festival, giving workshops for the village’s children.

Guadalupe had decided it was time to create a physical location for the community work she does. She was given some land at Longo Mai and launched the Center for Art and Sustainability as a project of Voz Propia. Within two years, the land was cleared, the first building completed, built by local carpenters with wood from the land, and the garden planted. She produced the musical “Mother Mountain in the Water Forest“with the village’s children. She helped the children’s mothers start a used clothing store to raise money for the children by asking her friends all over Costa Rica to send her the clothing they no longer wear. They have held two poetry festivals at the center; in addition GUANARED held its annual meeting at the Center in January 2014.

2012-2014 SCIENCE-In the rainforest with biologist from the Costa Rican University

The center’s current and upcoming work with children is focused around the environment and their rainforest. The children of Longo Mai and other nearby villages have the opportunity to observe and appreciate the details of the forest so they can understand the relationships among its inhabitants. Biology students from Costa Rica University in San Jose have come to Longo Mai to work with the local children, resulting in a project, Group of Biological Research Longo Mai. The children go to the forest with their mentors, observe carefully, take notes on the life of the forest (the species, the places they live, the behaviors they have), record what they see in photographs and drawings, then come home and pour the images and information into a database. They then experiment with various ways to disseminate the information: through paintings and drawings, music, theater, articles, cards, posters, guided walks. The object here is to teach the children to be biologist and naturalist guides, encouraging them to identify with the forest so they can share it with others, while also teaching them the skill of careful observation and how to communicate with others what they have learned. As Guadalupe says:

One of the many diseases of our time is the lack of observation. Most humans rarely observe and appreciate their environment. And many of the stimuli that today’s children receive are electronic, addictive, mind-numbing. We want to encourage girls and boys to carefully observe and appreciate the details of the forest, to seek to understand the relationships between its inhabitants, to be able to describe their observations (through words, pictures, songs, dance . . .) and tell other people.

Communities can generate knowledge about their place. When scientists do environmental research about a place they make the information they generate available in professional journals, which are far removed from the people who live in the areas they have studied. But here at Longo Mai we are developing children as biologist and naturalist guides, to perform such work in their own community. We want them to explain to our visitors about the biological variety of the place.We want children from other communities to visit our rainforest so our children here can show them the wonderful treasures of our forest.

Our artistic production next year will be “Creatures of Madremonte,” based on the bio-prospecting the children do at Longo Mai.We will include information about the phylogenetic relationships of living things in the forest of this place. We will take this artistic production to communities who have ideals like ours and to schools far from rural areas to share the jungle with them.

We want the children to identify with the forest, so they can give it to others. The forest is not a dreaded place, rather it is a place of enjoyment, a member of our community.

UN The stamps made by the children

V.  LIFE HISTORY

BORN IN THE WESTERN GUANACASTE PROVINCE on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, Guadalupe was the youngest of 10 children in a rural household with no electricity. She had no shoes until she was 11 years old. She credits her mother, Angelita Juárez, as her main source of inspiration. Angelita introduced Guadalupe to the traditional stories, songs, and rhythms that later became the foundation of her professional music career.Guadalupe’s upbringing gave her a deep appreciation for the natural environment and respect for her local culture.

When Guadalupe was 11, her mother died, and Guadalupe was sent to San José to live with her older sisters. A natural musician and wordsmith, she studied musical composition at the National University in Costa Rica, where her gifts were recognized. She won first prize at the University Song festival two years in a row.

From there Guadalupe became a world traveler. She represented her country’s musical tradition in Latin America as well as in Europe. She performed several times at the Latin American Festival organized at Muziekcentrum Vredenburg, Utrecht, the Netherlands. In Belgium, she played at cultural meetings, as well as at events in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Colombia. She attended the Vancouver Folk Festival in Canada and toured Europe for nearly a decade.

Guadalupe’s songs find their roots in her life, referring to and recalling her early childhood in Guanacaste. Listening to her voice is like being surrounded by a musical fantasy. She plays with her vocal chords, producing high and deep sounds that make her audience share the intensity of her feelings, even if they do not understand every single word. Her songs are a blend of music and poetry.

During the 15 years she  was living and performing in Europe, Guadalupe would come to Costa Rica each year for several months to work with the children of Costa Rican towns, telling stories related to their cultural identity. In 2002 she was given a diagnosis of brain cancer and underwent an experimental treatment in Belgium, after which the government in the Netherlands told her she was disabled, could no longer work, and would have to live in a setting where disabled people lived. Instead she returned to her homeland Costa Rica, wrote a musical and dedicated herself to Voz Propia and her own creative work. During this time she often sang in different towns with former students and colleagues. The creative networks in Costa Rica are very close and supportive, with the same musicians crossing and recrossing paths all over the country. Many of them are her former students.

Her creative work has become stronger, broader, and richer over the years. Apart from her musical career, she is well known for her research in folk traditions.  She received grants to publish this work in 2011 by Asociación de Compositores y Autores Musicales (ACAM, the Association of Composers and Musical Authors) and the Spanish Cultural Center. She has created a series of paintings with Pre-Columbian reminiscences that are inspired by her ethnic roots and Mesoamerican history. In 2014 she published her first book of poetry, an emotional testament to the strength and stamina of this woman who has survived three bouts with different cancers. Her close associates in Costa Rica often refer to her as a “phoenix rising.”

Despite her schedule of professional performances Guadalupe continues to work with communities of children, supporting, encouraging, evoking their creativity, because she believes in the beauty, strength, creativity, and capacity of children. As Guadalupe says:

One of the things that is most important to me is to show young people how they can be in touch with their cultural roots. They can live in this world, with technology and such, but if they understand their cultural roots they have more skills to cope with their everyday reality.

Guadalupe  is a force of nature—an artist activist who walks her talk, is uncompromising in her values, and is driven by creativity and her love of children.

END NOTES

1 See http://www.guadalupeurbina.com/GuadalupeUrbina/VozPropiaProyectos.html

2 For more information about GUANARED, see https://www.facebook.com/guanaredcvc and http://guanaredcr.blogspot.com.