San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Thousands attend all-night memorial for Costa Rican musician Fidel Gamboa

View a photo slideshow of the memorial here.

One after another hundreds of people lined up late Monday afternoon to say a final goodbye to Costa Rican singer and songwriter Fidel Gamboa, who died Sunday at 50 of a heart attack.

Costa Ricans gathered at the National Culture Center’s large open-air stage in San José’s historic Barrio Amón to pay respect to one of the country’s most prolific musicians.

A lineup of 20 national bands began playing at 4 p.m. Monday and planned to keep going until 8 a.m. Tuesday. Cars lined nearby residential streets throughout the night. A large screen projected Gamboa’s image and along with the lyrics to many of the songs he composed and performed with his band, Malpaís.

Gamboa performed with the group for the last time on Saturday night at a concert in Heredia’s Club 212 with Guatemalan rock band Alex Nahual. He suffered a heart attack shortly after the show.

At the memorial, family members and friends shared embraces with colleagues and Gamboa’s many admirers. In the evening, bandmates, including his brother, bassist Jaime Gamboa, and pianist Manuel Obregón, who is also the country’s cultural minister, gathered on stage to sing the Costa Rican National Anthem. Some 2,000 people stood and joined in song.

Fidel Gamboa Farewell Concert

Sight of Emptiness participated in an all-night farewell concert for Malpaís singer Fidel Gamboa, who died Sunday of a heart attack.

Alberto Font

It was a heartfelt tribute to a musician from a nation united in grief and admiration.

“I have no words to explain what I feel,” Jaime Gamboa said. “People are out here saying all that needs to be said. … What if he were here to see this? I have no words.”

Gamboa’s quiet talent and low-profile commitment to social causes, the arts and the environment helped him achieve mass appeal. But it was his music that united generations of Costa Ricans. “This is a musical embrace to let Fidel know that the country loved him for giving Costa Rica the gift of his music,” said the evening’s host, Leonardo Perucci.

“Fidel knew how to bring us back to our roots,” said 25-year-old fan Alfonso Campos. “He was great on stage, and his concerts were always full of meaning and interaction (with fans). Through Fidel’s music and lyrics we were able to get a feeling of belonging, and bands are not always able to give the audience that sentiment.”

At 5 p.m., Obregón sat on down at the piano and played “Mundos Pequeños,” his own tribute to Gamboa’s music and life.

“This is proof of the Costa Rican sensibility to Fidel’s music. It has been the most natural event. We barely did any planning. Everybody loved him and respected him because he brought us closer to our own national reality,” said Obregón.

The Making of Malpaís

Fidel Gamboa 1

Fidel Gamboa, lead singer of popular Costa Rican band Malpaís, died Sunday of a heart attack at 50 years of age. Courtesy of Malpaís

Following a long career in traditional Latin American folk and jazz, Gamboa’s latest musical endeavor, and his most successful, was a band named after a pristine piece of Pacific coastline on the southern Nicoya Peninsula. Malpaís was formed in 1999 with six members, including Gamboa’s brother, bassist Jaime Gamboa, pianist Obregón, violinist and now Culture Vice Minister Iván Rodríguez, drummer Gilberto Jarquín and percussionist Carlos Vargas. The band’s first album, “Uno,” was released in 2002, after the band had already gained local renown for its live performances. Malpaís released three more albums, “Historias de nadie” (“Stories of Nobody”) in 2004, live album “En vivo” in 2006, and a double album, “Un día lejano” (“A Distant Day”), in 2009.

Gamboa and Malpaís also played on a live 2002 recording with traditional Guanacaste troubadours Max Goldenberg and Odilón Juárez. The recording was released under the title “Tierra Seca” (“Dry Land”), a tribute to the northwestern Guanacaste province’s tropical-dry-forest landscapes.

Born into a musical family, the Gamboa brothers met influential musicians like Mejía Godoy while students at Costa Rica’s Castella Conservatory. Young idealists and supporters of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution, the Gamboa brothers joined Adrián Goizueta and El Grupo Experimental, often playing concerts in Nicaragua and many European countries. But it was Malpaís that most garnered Gamboa attention as the frontman of a quintessential Tico band, whose music captured the sentiment of a nation, for both young and old.

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