San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Musicians liven the streets of San José

It’s not always easy to attend concerts at San José theaters. Some venues are just too far away. Others get expensive when you add taxis or parking to the price of tickets. And many performances don’t start until 8 p.m., which is too late for some people. We can still enjoy good music, though, in the streets and parks of San José and other cities.

On San José’s Central Avenue, musicians perform on a made-up stage in front of the Culture Ministry’s Architecture Conservation building across the street from Lehmann’s. These are not amateurs plucking away, but musicians who want to build their reputations and earn money from the sale of their discs and donations. 

As soon as they start strumming, crowds gather. Some stay awhile, watching and listening.  Others barely pause. Some toss coins into the box or container. Others enjoy the music for free. But the music brings cheer to strollers, shoppers, tourists and even working people rushing to appointments.

The most unusual street concert is that of Edgar Rodríguez and his harp. Rodríguez came here three years ago from Colombia, where he studied music at the Luis Calvo Academy in Bogotá and played professionally. In Costa Rica, he met fellow Colombian Rodolfo Díaz, who plays the guitar, and they teamed up. Their music is light and trill, an unusual but delightful sound almost like bells ringing. They also play hotels, restaurants and private events, and sell their albums.  

Punto a Punto is the name of another group that often plays on the Central Avenue in San José near the Culture Ministry building. Led by Jorge Herrera, the group includes four or five musicians, and not always the same ones. They sing and play guitars and the songs range from tangos and waltzes to traditional folk tunes. Herrera’s father Hector was a musician, too, but Jorge first learned to play the guitar at the Fernando Centeno Guell school for the blind. 

“Many musicians here are no videntes,” says Herrera, indicating several of his blind companions. He also studied at the music conservatory of the University of Costa Rica. He’s been playing professionally since the 1970’s, and with various partners has played in other Central American countries as well as throughout Costa Rica.

Another blind musician who has been playing the keyboard in San José for many years is Johnny Pérez Pérez. He sings and plays a wide selection, and he is well known around town, although he is not much for talking. He prefers to get on with his music.

Peruvian musicians are easy to identify for their colorful ponchos, and the sound of their instruments, which include sets of bamboo pipes called a zampoña which produce a hollow, flute-like sound. Marcos Rosas, the leader of one such group, studied music at the University of San Marcos in Peru. He and his companions set up their concerts in parks and festivals and have albums for sale at reasonable prices.

On Sundays, long-established municipal bands hold free shows in the band shells in many cities at around 10 a.m. San José, Alajuela, Heredia, Cartago are just a few (Cartago’s modern open-air theater lists musical events on its website, Sundays, especially in summer (Nov.-May), are days for musical or theater programs in the parks. So enjoy the music, in the street or in the park. It’s all part of Tiquicia.

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