Silvio Rodríguez on innate Cuban musicality, and change

“The thing that would bring about a huge change in Cuba faster than anything else would be the lifting of the blockade.”

Silvio Rodríguez to Retire From the Stage español

El Sentinel, Orlando
Translation: Machetera

The Cuban singer/songwriter Silvio Rodríguez will finish what could be his last U.S. tour this Wednesday in Orlando.

Rodríguez will retire soon in order to spend more time with his family, said Hugo Cancio, the producer of the singer’s current U.S. tour, although the artist will complete his scheduled commitments.  Rodríguez himself told EFE News in February 2008 that he was already thinking about his retirement.  “I’m not going to sing many more years,” he said then.  “Pretty soon I’m going to dedicate myself solely to composition, which I like the best of all my activities.”

At that time, the singer also said that after four decades on the stage, other concerns were pressing.

“I’ve spent more than 40 years singing […] and I have more family obligations all the time,” he said.

Rodríguez recently granted a written interview with the Sentinel.  In it, he unveils the mystery behind his emblematic song “Unicorn”, talks about his years in the Cuban parliament, defends socialism and criticizes Cuban bureaucracy.

With the end of this tour in sight, how do you assess the interaction you’ve had with the Caribbean and Latin American public in the United States?  Are we different from the way we are in our own countries?

Seeing it from the stage, it has been a very affectionate reception, just like when we travel to other parts of the world.  The truth is that any artist would be grateful for that.

You’ve written many emblematic songs, rich in metaphors that each person can take and interpret through the prism of their personal experience.  (“Unicorn” is for some, an inspiration, for others a pair of bluejeans.)  Do these songs retain the same meaning for you over time or do they grow, change and even age like the rest of us?  (Certainly, if you’d like to reveal the mystery behind “Unicorn” once and for all, please go ahead.)

The circumstance that motivates a particular song may be forgotten but as long as meaning is found in the song itself, I’ll continue to sing it.  The music for“Unicorn,” at the beginning, was something that came to me on the guitar.  Afterwards I wanted to put words to it but they weren’t coming and I thought I’d lost the ability to write.  That’s where the sense of loss came from.  That it was a unicorn is due to the mystery and purity that characterizes these mythical animals.

Many believe that not a single line of the history of Cuban and Latin American history can be written without dedicating a substantial part to you.  Which artists from the younger generation do you consider to be carrying on this legacy and/or enriching the texture of Cuban music?  What role, if any, do the Cuban artists who’ve chosen to live outside of Cuba play?

I thank you for this thought that you say people have, but I have never considered myself as indispensable.  With regard to the current value of Cuban music, it would be a long and varied list, because in Cuba there are many different styles of music made in many different ways.  It might be said that in all of them there are very mature expressions, as much in classical music, jazz, dance music trova or hip-hop variants.  And in judging them I don’t discriminate against anyone, living wherever they live, or thinking however they think, because my reference is artistic talent, the unquestionable musicality that Cubans have.

Among your experiences you’ve been a member (Deputy) of the Cuban parliament (National Assembly of People’s Power).  What do you think you brought to the Cuban political process during your years with the Assembly and what is your opinion of the institution after having seen it from inside?

I was a deputy during three periods, or about 15 years, and I never ran for office nor aspired to it, but instead was chosen by popular vote in meetings held throughout the island.  Although I’m not a politician, I always felt that to not accept the popular vote would have been a civic failing that I couldn’t allow myself.  In those 15 years I learned how many aspects of national life work and don’t work, problems that on the outside tend to be simplified but when you get to know them from the inside you see that they are a lot more complex than imagined.  I don’t think I contributed anything transcendental but in the full Assembly I asked that Cuban socialism be understood as something that might be perfected, rather than something rigid. For more than 12 years, since I left, I’ve advocated for systematic cultural assistance to the prisons throughout the country.  My conclusion is that the National Assembly of People’s Power is perfectible, just the same way as I spoke of our socialism.

You’ve also expressed the need for an evolution in the political and social processes in your country.  What elements in your opinion, ought to be included in this evolution and how might it be brought about?

The thing that would bring about a huge change in Cuba faster than anything else would be the lifting of the blockade.  I don’t believe that it would mean a change of the political system because the majority of the Cuban people recognize that socialism has guaranteed the social justice that means free healthcare and education in the difficult conditions of a third world country like ours with a blockade on top of it.  We also know that we have an overabundance of bureaucracy and many solutions implemented in situations far away from what is actually happening.  I’m of the opinion that our politics look too much at those of our neighbors and that we ought to act more independently.  I believe that we might begin to test politics with a greater flavor of the future.

What would you like your legacy to be?

That my descendants might hear a melody somewhere and say: “That reminds me of someone related to me.”

Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the international network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source and translator are cited.

One response to “Silvio Rodríguez on innate Cuban musicality, and change

  1. Thank you, as always, Machetera!

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