Malpaís, Good Vibrations
Singing for Costa Rica’s Underprivileged Youth
By Erin Raub
For almost a decade, Malpaís has rendered the heart and soul of Costa Rica into unforgettable beats and profound lyrics. The group's name itself - the same as a remote beach town on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula - is symbolic of its goal to transport listeners to an impossibly idyllic destination, where the world falls away and we know not whether we've just arrived or are already leaving. Featuring sounds from nature and a mixture of rhythms from folklore to rock, the band's songs are imbued with the spirit of what it means to be Costa Rican.
Malpaís's first six albums, populated by snapshots and reflections of local customs and culture, catapulted the group to fame. Each song has a special meaning that is communicated via a different story from a unique perspective – touching fans’ hearts and creating a sense of community among band members. According to Malpaís vocalist, songwriter and bass guitarist Jaime Gamboa, "songs are like children: you love them all equally,"
The band’s newest album, "Hay Niños Aquí" (There Are Children Here), is a departure from Malpaís's standard fare. Instead of a compilation of individual stories and anecdotes, this disc revolves around one main theme: national victims of poverty, mainly children. Mundo Visión, an international relief organization, requested the group’s collaboration in honor of the organization's 25th anniversary. For a group already dedicated to social causes in Costa Rica community (pianist Manuel Obregón and violinist Iván Rodríguez are minister and vice minister of Culture under the current administration), the decision was easy. Jaime Gamboa and his brother, Fidel Gamboa, agreed to write several songs to celebrate the upcoming event.
Inspired by individual stories of struggle, survival and hope, the project soon doubled in size, taking on a whole new dimension as it grew. “In truth, all our inspiration came from the stories that our friends at Visión Mundial sent us, Jaime said. “They are inspiring stories, of humble people that fight to move forward, stories of solidarity, of union among poverty and… hope. Perhaps what's important about this project is that we were able to pull from deep within ourselves – the stories that had been there for a long time, incubating."
The album's song "Hay Niños Aquí" welcomes listeners with melodic portraits of six Costa Rican children, each struggling with difficult circumstances. As each recording transitions to the next, the band's melancholy melodies draw us in, verbalizing the pain and conflict of growing up in harsh conditions. The album's fourth track, entitled " La niña que vino del futuro" (The Girl Who Came from the Future) captures the spirit of the entire record, harmonizing "The girl who came from the future/Who was always here, who has not left/Who is inside every lost child/At the hands of rage, without a shield."
Yet the album's message is not one of sadness for what is, but of hope for what can be. Malpaís celebrates the nation's marginalized neighborhoods, citing the companionship found there – and the strength it takes to face adversity with solidarity. Full of the band's characteristic stylings, "Hay Niños Aquí" has appropriately added children's voices to the mix, creating a CD that speaks volumes not just in words, but also in message.
With the November 2010 launch of "Hay Niños Aquí," Malpaís committed to donating the proceeds of its first 2,000 album sales to Visión Mundial. More than ¢18 million ($36,000) was raised, and 616 children were blessed with godfathers or godmothers – sponsors that will help their "godchildren" through one of the organization's support programs.
After a benefit concert and autograph campaign, Alejandro Guevara, Marketing Director for Visión Mundial, expressed his gratitude on behalf of the organization, stating, "For our organization, these songs represent years of struggle, sacrifice and miracles come true. These songs have history, a face, a past and present and, without doubt, a future." Of Malpaís's participation, Jaime explained, "All we did was agree to a request from an organization that we believe in and had already supported in the past. We know that these funds will be well used, for people that really need them."
After two years of hard work and composing, three discs, and a successful collaboration with Visión Mundial, band members are looking forward to some downtime. For Malpaís, this includes continued giving back to the community, including involvement with Radio Malpaís, a project that works to promote local musicians and employ students. Additionally, the group will continue traveling around the country, making stops at the Universidad Nacional (May 6), Cañas (June 17), Ciudad Quesada (July 23) and Pérez Zeledón (August 20), among others. In 2012, Malpaís will once again prepare for celebration – this time, the 10-year anniversary of the launch of their first disc, aptly named "Uno."