Malpaís frontman Fidel Gamboa dies of a heart attack at 50

August 29, 2011

Costa Rica has lost one if its most beloved musical voices. Fidel Gamboa, singer, multi-instrumentalist and main songwriter of the popular national band Malpaís, died Sunday of a heart attack, the daily La Nación reported.

Gamboa and bandmates on Saturday night performed a concert in Heredia’s Club 212 with Guatemalan rock band Alex Nahual. Malpaís band member and Costa Rican Culture Minister Manuel Obregón told La Nación that Gamboa’s death “is a great loss for the country. We will always remember [Gamboa’s] great artistic works, which represent what it means to be Costa Rican.”

Gamboa was 50.

Gamboa’s longtime friend and musical collaborator, Nicaraguan singer Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy, wrote on his Facebook page Sunday, “When we heard the news of your death, I reflected in silence about what was most important in our lives: friendship, music, poetry, solidarity … easy words to say, but that carry a weight of energy, commitment and honor, which only human beings like you are able to put into practice, with dignity and coherence.”

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.

The band’s music draws heavily on traditional Central American folk and rock music, particularly the music of Guanacaste in Costa Rica, as well as other Latin American and world-music influences. Gamboa composed much of the band’s music, while brother Jaime wrote most of the lyrics.

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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