Diary of a music lover: Comprehensive discography of Pablo Milanés
In 2015 Pablo decided to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his song My Twenty Two Yearsa hinge theme with great influence on the way of making a song in the 60s, to the point of being considered a foundational theme of the Nueva Trova movement. For this, he offered in the Karl Marx concert 50 de 22, which was recorded on the homonymous DVD. This material turned out to be number 50 in his recording career, which began in the now distant 1974. The Artistic Office of Pablo Milanés and the Cuban label Bis Music had the wisdom to celebrate this fact with the reissue and remastering of his entire discography and release it on collection box shape. Faced with such an announcement, my id almost bursts from so many impulses and the music lover that I have inside made his mouth water... or his ears, rather... I knew that the compilation boxes usually have three-figure prices, and in this case we are talking about 50 record titles that include 53 CDs and 5 DVDs, a large figure even for this type of product. And although the starting price was lower than what I expected, it was still impossible for me to pay.
Two years later Haydée Milanés released her album Love, a duet with his father and composed of his father's songs. The album, the result of 2 years' work, is a gem in which the young woman reinvents her father's songs in a fresh and simple way. Devouring that record made me dream again of Pablo's blessed box and I made a deal with the music lover whereby I would save monthly fees until the cost of the collection was completed. For four or five months I was punctual with the deposits, then I started skipping them, sometimes I deposited what I had skipped at once... other times not... Among those inconsistencies, I arrived at the end of 2018 with the quota system already forgotten.
In mid-2019 Haydée premieres The edition deluxe by Love which includes a second disc with the collaboration of various artists and an extra track on the first. Again Haydée, with her delicacy, pushes me towards the box and the music lover sternly told me that if I continued with the installments he would never buy the collection. So a few days later I completed what was missing and I walked to the nearest Artex store, as I always do when I am about to buy a particularly expensive record... the superego pressing that buying records is absurd forces me to these little self-punishment 2.3 km later the shopkeeper told me that I did not have a bag that would serve to store the box and my backpack was also declared inept to contain that 55x15x14 cm cuboid. I considered taking a taxi back, but finally I returned on foot, under the gaze of everyone who passed me trying to figure out what the hell that cubical thing was that was sticking out of the mouth of my backpack. Despite carrying an extra 5.5 kg, it took me less time to return, fueled by the desire to finally enjoy the box in question. After drinking a liter of water, taking off my sweaty pullover and turning on two fans, I sat down at the dining room table to begin to shake that object.
The design of the box is quite sober and elegant: a black and white photo of Pablo with that sincere and beautiful smile of always, on concentric curved lines that emulate the grooves of the vinyl, texts with the title and the content of the collection. and the division between the lid and the box adorned with colored stripes. On the inside of the cover a chronology of Pablo's discography and band members.
The box also includes an 88-page book with some photographs, a general guide to the entire discography that includes the song lists with their authors and performers and the original covers of each album, and finally the credits of the collection. The first pages of the book are occupied by a text like the ones Marta Valdés has accustomed us to. It is an introduction to Pablo's record work regarding the collection, which, despite its excellence, is insufficient, as the author acknowledges, for such a box. And it is that in general I think that the content of the book is quite poor. I expected something like the one that accompanies the box Discovery by Pink Floyd, which includes many photos and texts about each album. Or, instead of a book for the collection, include this information in the individual booklets of each disc, as happens in the mono and stereo boxes of The Beatles released in 2009 that bring historical and recording notes accompanied by photographs. Of course, producing a larger book or more abundant booklets would entail a substantial increase in the cost of production, and for that part the low price of this box is something that is greatly appreciated. Perhaps a cheaper solution would have been to include, instead of a book, a disc with extra content such as articles, sheets of each disc, photographs...
I insist on this topic because it seems crucial to me to have this type of information at hand when one is faced with products like this. We are talking about 50 albums with around 600 songs, composed and recorded over 41 years of searching, research and musical and poetic evolution. As if that were not enough, Pablo's career has developed under convulsive times, of marked social, political, cultural and economic changes, not only in Cuba and Latin America but throughout the world in general, factors that greatly influence the work. of any musician, especially in the case of one of the main exponents of a type of song to which surnames have been attached such as protest, social, committed or political. So an approach to Pablo's work, not only from the musical point of view but also from the historical context of each recording, would have been of great help to face these 34 and a half hours of music and understand a little better those four decades of songs.
Now we go to the chicken of the rice with chicken: the discs. They all come in jewel case and numbered chronologically. Of the fifty albums, five are double discs, three include a DVD, two are single DVDs, and the remaining forty are single discs. The invoice of the records is not of great quality: the plastic of the boxes is weaker than usual and the grammage of the paper of the booklets is low and this forces you to handle them with great care and means that many come with folds or wrinkles caused during the assembly process; print quality is good, although pixels can be seen in some cases; the discs are better quality than the boxes and books, with impeccable printing and all the robustness you would expect from them. That the quality of the albums is not the best does not seem to me to be a serious thing considering the low price of this box when we compare it with similar collections. For example, the stereo box of The Beatles contains 14 titles and the price today, ten years after it was released, coincides with that of this box. For this reason, I consider that this collection has an unbeatable quality-quantity-price ratio. And that without mentioning that we are talking about the complete work of Mr. Pablo Milanés.
The lowest note that can be given to this box is in the disc design section. When the release of the box was announced, the label claimed that they had rescued the original designs and liner notes for each album. However, this did not turn out to be exactly the case, or at least not as many of us imagined. The discs have a generic design, in which the original cover is included in the lower right corner in a fairly small size, while the bulk of the cover is occupied by an enlarged fragment of the original cover and on it the title of the collection , the number, title and year of publication of the disc and the list of guests in the cases that they have. The same happens with the inside of the booklets, some have illustrations, but most only contain the letters on a white background with an allegorical vinyl design, just like the box. The back covers are all the same, the track list and the original cover on the vinyl grooves. Upon discovering these generic packages, the truth is that I was quite disappointed. It would even have been easier to just put in the original designs rather than redesign the collection. This same thing had already happened in the 1990s when the discographies of Juan Formell and Los Van Van and Irakere were reissued. Generic packaging that does not add anything to the records, but rather I think they go against the collection. And it is not that the design is good or bad, but for logical, affective and even historical reasons in this type of matter, the original design must be respected. Another deficiency that I found was that in several live albums there are medleys with two or more songs and in the booklets only the lyrics of the first song appear. I do not understand the reason for the omission of the others.
I was surprised to find in the box records that I considered to be pirated, like the with certain friends of 1989, the Piero & Pablo live from Colombia from 1993; or that jewel that is Pablo & Silvio live in Argentina of 1984, record of the concert offered by these "monsters" at the Obras Sanitarias stadium in April of that year as a celebration of the reestablishment of Argentine democracy, whose attendance was so massive that it threatened to paralyze Buenos Aires. I was particularly surprised by this one as I had heard a story, probably an urban legend, that due to legal problems the album was never released and only a few hundred courtesy circulated. Another point in favor is that all the albums went through a remastering process in the first months of 2016 by Adalberto “Berty” Hernández, a regular sound engineer for Pablo and PM Records. Undoubtedly, the musical and audiovisual content of this collection is invaluable and my arrogance does not give me enough time to outline an assessment, even brief, of Pablo's work.
Despite the defects that this box may have, I believe that the balance is totally positive and I strongly applaud this decision by Bis Music and the Artistic Office of Pablo Milanés. I hope other record companies join this idea because it is frustrating not to find in music stores the discographies of Cuban groups and artists such as Omara Portuondo, Noel Nicola, Irakere, Los Van Van, Santiago Feliú, Síntesis, Chucho Valdés, Benny Moré... Music that, like Pablo's, has contributed to shore up the nation's cultural identity, until finally they can be considered pieces of this wonderful island that should always be carried with you, close to your heart.