San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica gets own School of Rock

The lights of the small Laurence Olivier Theater in San José went dim, and Esteban Bonilla stepped up to the microphone.

Despite a baby face that made him look fresh out of high school, Bonilla could sing with the best of them. The lead singer for the band Casco Obligatorio belted out numbers with a strong voice capable of hitting the high notes all the way through to the end. Standing next to him, Felipe Alvarado made his guitar sing in harmony and provided backup vocals. Fellow guitarist Dirk Stammes and bassist Teto Castro played beautifully, while Federico Salazar kept rhythm on the drums. Casco Obligatorio was one of four bands that played 45-minute sets free of charge at “For Moms About to Rock,” an Aug. 11 benefit concert to help support the children of poor mothers serving time at Buen Pastor women’s prison in San José.

It was hard to classify Casco Obligatorio’s style of music as anything other than “rock fusion,” as the band seemed to draw on a multitude of different elements.

This distinct style is exactly what Abel Guier, director of Cost Rica’s new School of Rock, wants to help young musicians develop. Through sharing years of musical experience and knowledge about the music business, Guier and the school’s instructors – all involved in the rock industry – are helping to mold a new generation of Costa Rican rockers like Casco Obligatorio.

“The rock music scene in Costa Rica has a lot of talent, but our musicians don’t always know how to market themselves,” said Guier, who plays bass for two local bands, Parque en el Espacio and Gandhi. “Every ingredient is vital, but there is no perfect recipe.”

Through workshops taught by industry insiders, the school in western San José’s Sabana Sur neighborhood is helping young musicians develop musical prowess, stage presence, press kits, websites and much more, Guier said.

“Producers, musicians, rock journalists – we want to have all kinds of people helping out to teach young people about the industry,” he said.

Christian Walsh, a teenage guitarist who participated in the School of Rock’s first workshop, “Power Trio Sessions,” focusing on guitar, drum and bass skills, said learning from local bands has been far more beneficial than anything he could have learned in a classroom.

“Real guys who have been there work with us and want to see us succeed,” he said. “It’s hard to find that anywhere else.”

Luigi Jiménez, bass player for the San José area band Calavera y la Canalla and a School of Rock instructor, said it is important to teach young Costa Rican musicians a mix of everything.

“We are in the middle of everything in Costa Rica,” he said. “We have influences from everywhere. I think here in Costa Rica we have to teach young musicians to play everything.”

Guier said the School of Rock came to fruition after he was approached by childhood friend Jorge Rivera, founder of Clandestina Hub Creativo, a school specializing in the creative and visual arts.

“We know from experience that when you are a small band no one will approach you and it’s hard to market yourself successfully,” Guier said. “There wasn’t anything like this in Costa Rica, so we wanted to give it a shot.”

Guier said that when he first started playing professionally in 1989, most bands in Costa Rica exclusively played covers of songs by U.S. and European bands. Bands that were original had a hard time getting by. In an effort to get his name out there, Guier said he used to put posters on every light post.

“The police would eventually start looking for you after a while,” he said with a laugh. “Now it’s way easier, but still a lot of times kids don’t know where to start.”

In the future, Guier plans to bring in a host of different industry experts to hold clinics, including musical producer Alberto Ortiz, who has been instrumental in the success of many local bands, Guier said.

The School of Rock’s next event will be “Bassman Sessions,” consisting of “slap bass” classes taught by bass player Chalo Trejos and rock band Evolución’s Moldo, on Aug. 20.

For more information on the School of Rock and its workshops and prices, visit the school’s Facebook page at, email Guier at, or call 8840-7204 or 8306-6410.

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