San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Musician Stuck in the Middle of Music Scene

Fernando Jiménez is not a big fan of María José Castillo, the Costa Rican darling who was propelled to local superstardom earlier this year when she came in second in the Latin American Idol singing contest.

“There are people who fight and fight without getting a piece of what she’s won,” the musician says. “There are lucky people who don’t necessarily deserve it.”

Jiménez, 36, has been toiling away in the Costa Rican rock scene for about 15 years.

He is now the lead singer and composer for the band Bilateral, a group that performs original songs in English.

But Jiménez has found that Ticos want cheerful pop covers provided by singers like María José, not moody rock music in a foreign language.

This was not what he expected when he first decided to write lyrics in English.

“I thought people would like foreign music more,” he says. “They would think we were from another country and support us. (It was) a form of tricking them.”

But instead, Bilateral has found itself in a strange in-between place, musically speaking. Jiménez says a radio station that plays songs in English rejected the band for being local and not playing covers, and people who prefer Spanish-language music rejected it for being in English and not providing music people can salsa dance to.

“It’s difficult for any (local) group to get support,” he says. “The atmosphere is very chilly.”

Jiménez says he always liked English-language music best growing up, and he taught himself English to understand his favorite songs. Some of his first tapes were by John Lennon and Billy Joel. As a teenager, he played in a band whose drum set was made out of upside-down plastic trash cans, with a metal grill substituted for cymbals.

He’s gone through various groups since then, and settled on Bilateral four years ago.

The group has had trouble finding gigs, grabbing one here, another there, but never achieving a steady stream of work. So he keeps his job as a computer technician for the daily La Nación, making time to compose and practice his songs late at night and early in the morning.

Jiménez describes his songs as very personal and introspective. One of his favorites, called “Kiss Your Ghosts,” is not just about real ghosts but also “about the fears we carry inside of us,” he says. “Those fears are really ghosts, because they hold us back.”

To listen to Jiménez’s music, visit


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