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Interviews Osvaldo Rodriguez. Photo: Courtesy of the interviewee. Osvaldo Rodriguez. Photo: Courtesy of the interviewee.

Osvaldo Rodríguez: so that love does not end

Haven't you heard the version he did of 16 tons?”. "No, I did not know". "Well, the guy is whole, you have to hear that." "And do you know him?" "Yes, you can shoot him on Messenger, he's very natural, but wait, I'd better give you his personal number." 

Tony Arroyo, whom I know through the web of Facebook, immediately connected with my idea for an interview. It all started with the post I published with a cover of Los 5U4. Tony is always enthusiastic when it comes to hurting oblivion. More than one idea has given me. He is a good conspirator.  

Call in progress. One can feel strange when conversing with an artist. In the end, there is something in the tone of voice, the way of speaking, that becomes familiar without being so. Osvaldo told me things as if he knew me and that increased my sensations of deja vu. I have many vague memories of those 80's that for me were childhood; those things that one day jump and assault one, be it by way of a smell, some capricious beats or a lost frame. 

But this time it was the voice, spoken and sung —because Osvaldo cannot exemplify if he does not sing what he says— the one that took me out of the dark zone, that man in black glasses, always firm behind the microphone, and with an even more firm than your pose; that voice that occupied all the spaces.

Rock, ballad and bolero in the seventies

"love is over it can be seen as a bolero, ballad or song, but I composed it as a bolero. I half agree with Paquito D'Rivera's idea that the bolero differs from the ballad or the song in the cun cun cun that of the tumbadora, because it also differs in the rattle of the bongo, in the structure of the theme, in the texture due to the way it is expressed. The truth is that I did not do it thinking about what came out in the end. The surprise for me was that the musicians of Los 5U4 were interested. That, plus the influence that we all brought from rock, meant that in the end it had that ink”. 

Rocker, guarachero, bolero, it's easy to say, but here it's not about the cliche worn, typical of the artist who today sings one thing and tomorrow another without hitting the nail on the head, which, unfortunately, is becoming more and more common. In a quick review of Osvaldo's work, it will not be difficult to detect the roundness and perfection of the compositions. And the genres could be seen as a pretext for a greater purpose, but, without a doubt, full dominance is indisputable, as a composer and as a performer. 

In this case, if you have to start somewhere, nothing better than doing it with what has been his great song, which also opened the doors to other notable boleros. So, let's still stay on the premises of this genre and this composition, in the voice of the interviewee:

"love is over, despite the fact that it has a bridge and an ending, it would be a theme with variations, and it is different from what the bolero had been. It is as if it were a single theme of melodic and harmonic exposition, and the variations revolve around that pattern, except for the final part. I don't know if I explain myself. The bolero had a different structure. From then on I began to build boleros along those lines, perhaps a little more conservative, but the characteristic they always had was that the bridge had nothing to do with the melodic line of the song. The bridges that boleros used were usually a solo of some instrument that made the same melodic line of part A of the song.  

A hybrid genre by nature, as elusive in its determinations as it is flexible in its evolution, in Osvaldo's hands it was promoted under the label of “hard bolero”. In a decade of so much sound explosion in Cuba, today it could be seen as a kind of fusion ahead of its time although in those years it was something common.

Beyond the insertion of a block of guitars with distortion and Queen-style triads, (on the bridge of a bolero!) merging is always much more than juxtaposing. In the end, the musician pursues a single goal, and when he manages to cook in a single piece the sum of all his whims, it doesn't matter if fashion fell into the pot with tradition, I check it with the pepillo, what from here with what from there. Osvaldo, The 5U4 and the seventies still have that swing nostalgic and somewhat mystical. Not in vain, among the most sought-after Cuban vinyls, there are those of that band and those of those years. So many DJs can't be wrong.

But rock'n roll, in addition to going through its golden years, was Osvaldo's fixed idea like that of so many other young people during that time. 

“It's normal for artists to respond to certain influences. In my case, during adolescence I listened to rock, from heavy metal or rock more ʽwhite' to R&B. In the first moments, when Los 5U4 was created, given my responsibility as composer and director of the group, what I did was pour a little all that influence into the staff, perhaps in a somewhat rudimentary way. I didn't do that alone. They all did it at that time, especially rock in Spanish. There was influence from rock from Spain, Argentina, Chile, even from the world of troubadours. I got carried away, and experimented with things that had to do with that rock in Spanish. We were always clear that our rock was in Spanish, although at some point I recorded a song in English." 

It took more than 10 years for 5U4 to release their first LP. The technical difficulties, the lack of instruments, the discrimination for being blind a part of its members  to the point of explicitly arguing that their television presentations were not viable because given their condition they could "hurt the public's sensibilities", among other factors, kept them out of the record orbit for a time, although they managed to record some 45 rpm during that time 

But already in its early years (Los 5U4 were founded in 1968), Osvaldo's direction and arrangements, together with the work of his musicians, contributed to the fact that part of the public recognized them at the beginning, sometimes in a unique way: many thought that Los 5U4 was a foreign rock group. There was a gap between the recordings achieved in the studio and the presentations. It was not easy to break through: 

“In 1970 the group gained popularity to the point of being nominated to participate in the Varadero Festival. First obstacle: we had no instruments, and the ones we had for some time afterwards were invented and repaired. It was that festival in which Los Bravos, Los Angeles and Los Mustang came, and it was said that Formula V were going to come but they couldn't due to an accident, according to rumours. In that festival I had to play with Pablo Menéndez's guitar Guild, director of the group Mix; Bertica played with one of Los Galantes, who accompanied Lourdes Gil. The bass Leonardo used was Formell's and Jorge Aguilera had to play with Enrique Plá's drum. The sound was made by the technician from Los Mustang, who also helped other groups. It was somewhat painful but in the end it was the time that Cuba was living at that time. Some had more possibilities than others because they were given the instruments or they got them abroad. It was a mix of everything that can happen when there is a shortage.” 

A year earlier, in 1969, the recording of In five minutes He had already shown that the group could get to do a harder rock than usual on the Island, including effects made with the echo chamber in this song. But without a doubt, the success and the greatest popularity came with another singular theme.

…and the cane was lost…

"The story of I lost my cane It's from February 1972. The recording was made in Radio Centro's No.2 Studio, which wasn't used much because the musicians didn't want it. If they couldn't record at Egrem, they generally preferred to record at Radio Progreso's Studio No. 1. In our case we always wanted to record at No.2 because that was the secret of Los 5U4. That study achieved a very specific timbre and atmosphere, all thanks to the hidden member that we had in the group, Mr. Pepín Carbonell. Pepín was an engraver who loved us and really liked what we did.

“But because of those things that happen in Cuba and I confess that I had a lot to do with thatAfter some time we hoped that, due to the success of the song, we would be able to record it at Egrem, but that took us a long time. It is true that around the year 1970-1971 we recorded an Extended Play that had: Why won't you love me? and in the poor man's house. But when they gave us the opportunity, more than a year after the topic became popular, I had a big tantrum and decided not to record it.

What was the reason, some kind of restriction?

“No, it's just that it was never easy for us, not to say impossible, at first, to record at Egrem. That's why what we did was pick ourselves up to record in Studio No.2. We wanted to make music known in any way. Of course we also had in our sights being able to make a record, but that was possible after the indisputable successes that the group had. It took a long time for Egrem to call us as our group was well known and then I had a tantrum and refused to record it. That's what happened."

That was how some hits were collected on LP after years of being hits, as is the case with love is over and Congratulations. But they would no longer sound the same, according to its own author: "That recording of love is over It's horrible, it didn't suit us. You also have to understand that at that time there were very few studios and a lot of demand. If you add the little time they gave you for the recording, one realizes that it was not easy. It was necessary to fight against many impossible, like the problem of the instruments”.

It must be said that such impossibilities not only included instruments, but also, obviously, audio equipment, which on many occasions as was the norm with so many other groups of the time— they subsisted thanks to the juggling of many campaign electronics. “I remember that when we finished recording the background by I lost my cane, on the last chord after that last phrase: I got lost..., the equipment that was being used as distortion it burned.”

Beyond the ups and downs, for a prolific composer, always overflowing with ideas, handling the direction of a group at the same time as his own work can result in constant tension. Formats, templates, categories and evaluations have also been the story of many recent musicians. Did Osvaldo feel like a troubadour? How to solve then during those years that other need?    

“It is a controversial topic, perhaps many do not consider me a troubadour. But parallel to my work with Los 5U4, I had my own repertoire with other characteristics, more personal, with other complications, some more intimate songs. And it cost me a lot of work for the institutions that governed culture to understand that I wanted to do work parallel to the group. The Contracting Center, to which I belonged, did not allow me. They told me that if they allowed me they would have to do the same with the singers of many other groups and separations could be encouraged. 

“Maybe another song had to come up  and this would be another intrigue  that finally defined that I could do both. I wanted to do it since 1971-1972 and not leave the group. I never thought to leave the group. That's why I had to have that ballast for many years. It is true that I did some parallel activities, especially with Raquel Revuelta and Marta Valdés in the Hubert de Blanck Hall, but that was something specific because I was never able to solve that dilemma of mine during the seventies. The problem was solved by the 20th Anniversary Song. Since I did that song with the guitar, even the second falsetto voice is mine, and since that song was also part of an album, it served to show that the work of Los 5U4 and mine as a troubadour were two different things” . 

You separated from Los 5U4 around 1982. Did this difficulty that you mention have any influence on the separation?

"Nope. I am parting ways with The 5U4 for other reasons.

“Once an unpleasant thing happened to me, I had never talked about it. One day an official from the National Tour Agency came to my house. At that time I had a lot of work and was making a record, it was 1981. The official told me that there was interest in the group going to work at the Cienfuegos thermonuclear plant, which was being created at that time, that if it was something prioritized, that if it was a plan of Fidel, you know, everything they could tell you at that time to convince you. I went a bit reluctantly, because, in addition, I had to put together a repertoire. In the end, they turned me to work at night in the activities for the builders there and for the nearby sugarcane camps, and during the day to rehearse. 

“The rehearsals were without audio. In one of those rehearsals, I told the musicians to stop and making a correction to Juan Illa, the drummer, my voice stopped being heard. Result: a hematoma on the left vocal cord. It had been too much work for several years. Also, I smoked a lot, and although I gave up smoking, the damage was already done. I had to do a lot of voice rest. 

“But when that coincided that there were new forms of payment in which you received more if you worked more. So, in part, I freed the 5U4 from that restriction. I didn't want to be a hindrance to them. In fact, I didn't get into a fight with anyone in the group. That was in 1982, when I decided to leave the group. I had already been recovering for a few months but I was still not at 100%. They understood my situation. I also didn't know how long my recovery was going to take."

Sochi, Sopot, Yamaha. international recognition

It would not be possible to speak of boom in Cuba by Osvaldo Rodríguez, especially between the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s, without the context of the international song festivals that were held in those years. Other scenarios, other demands, other rigors. Although their participation in these constituted a kind of consecration, the rules and bureaucracy were still the stone that caused some stumbling blocks.

“In 1979 there was an attempt by the ICRT for me to compete at the Sopot Festival, but I refused. Perhaps in those days that was something inexplicable, that someone refused to travel to a festival, imagine, rejecting a faster, but if Los 5U4 didn't go, I decided I wouldn't go alone. The truth was that the response to Los 5U4 from the institutional point of view, say Ministry of Culture, Contracting Center, Egrem, Cubartistas and others, did not work well. Later they insisted a lot on the same idea and I ended up going to that festival in 1980. The following month I managed to go on tour with the group to Portugal and Iraq”.

Osvaldo regrets very much not having any recording of his presentation at Sopot 1980: “I have moved heaven and earth. I went to Cuba recently, and I was talking to a friend of mine from the neighborhood, from there at 21 y G, who works at the ICRT, I asked him to find that recording for me. I also discussed it with Montesinos and other friends, but so far it has been unsuccessful. They have told me that they have made file movements, hopefully and in a transfer that has not been lost. I would like to be able to have that recording before I go off the air.” 

Looking back on what happened in that edition of Sopot, you can't help but have mixed feelings. On the one hand, he already had previous experience at the Sochi festival, where he received a great reception and won the Grand Prize; but in Sopot he was overwhelmed by a sustained ovation from the public: “they gave me the biggest applause I have ever received in my life. I would say it was ballet applause, and I didn't win such an important prize at that festival, except for the prize from the Polish Radio and Television Committee, which is what is called a consolation prize”.

On the other hand, there are also bitter memories: “In the end, I didn't feel like singing because I knew there was going to be nothing for me or for Klari Katona, the Hungarian representative who did very well. Because of those things that happen, that festival was already arranged in advance.”

Osvaldo remembers that despite both he and Klari Katona being eliminated, after they both won the popularity award, there were swings in the decisions as to whether they could appear only as an exhibition in the following rounds. Finally the concession was made to them; everything seems to indicate that the favor of the public was a somewhat heavy load for the jury. That is why Osvaldo keeps the contradiction between a jubilant public with his songs and the act of singing, knowing that there was no longer going to be a formal recognition.

It is not even ruled out that the sociopolitical background played its role. It was August 1980, only a month after the strikes and protests of the Solidarity Union began in Gdansk (just 12 km from Sopot), led by Lech Walesa who was a kind of spark in the subsequent implosion of Eastern Europe. The festival ended up being won by Finland. 

What song defended there? How did you win over the public then?

“Not to brag, but I'll tell you something. I had to sing three songs: Life is always so much more and without ever They were the first two. That was my role, but when I finished without ever I had to return to the stage surprised three times because the audience couldn't get enough of applauding. I remember that Patterson conducted the orchestra and he asked me, what do we do, Osvaldo? Imagine, I wasn't even supposed to repeat the ending of without ever, or repeat the other song. 

“Since the public could not be controlled, something occurred to me and I told Patterson. I decided to burn the ships because I knew that the Polish public had a broad sense of music. So I made a version of love me a lot the way I had done it all my life: whistling and guttural sounds, making primo and second with one voice. I made the version in Creole time [demo]. When I made the introduction the audience went downstairs. There is a part that I even did in unison with an octave difference. All that playing the guitar. I was even able to make moving intervals between the voices and the public noticed and appreciated that very much. The Polish public is special. After that I never went back to Poland. My memory of Sopot is bitter but in the end the public made up for everything”.

A year later, at the 1981 Yamaha Music Festival in Japan, the result would be different. Osvaldo won the International Grand Prix, with the theme Let's say it doesn't matter, above the North American duo Peach & Herb. Years before, Farah María and Miriam Ramos had participated. But with Osvaldo it was the first time that a socialist country had won the Grand Prize in that contest, and also the first time that a song in Spanish had done so. In Cuba, the occasional debate was generated around the duality of the Grand Prix at that festival, since one was broadcast for the national sphere of Japan and another for the international arena. Even so, recognition in all senses for Osvaldo, without a doubt, reached full consecration.

“Although my years of great glory were few, those moments were the boom of my work and that of Los 5U4, in which it can be said that we managed to reach various strata and generations”. Having reached the top, in terms of recognition and popularity (Osvaldo also received several Egrem awards and in more than one edition of the Adolfo Guzmán Contest), in 1982 he decided to pursue a solo career. 

In 1985, and missing his life as a “grupero” —a term frequently used by the interviewee— his career continued with the founding of Osvaldo Rodríguez and his Little Band. With this group, in which Pucho López was the main arranger, he recorded the album farandulero (Egrem, 1987), from which songs such as Saturday night, Four tenths and one are for Los Arabos and the homonym to the album. 

Then, the participation in festivals continued.

Viña del Mar and the OTI Festival

“In 1992 I went to Viña del Mar, there I sang a song called for when you come back. For that festival I myself had to get the bases. It was a management that I did in the company of a great friend who was cultural attaché of the Embassy of Chile, Gerardo Álvarez. I composed the theme and managed to qualify as a finalist. I had to make several coordinations for the travel procedures with the institutions of Culture because I did not have my own entity to leave and enter the country. 

“In that festival the only one who was eliminated from the finalists was me. I remember that I sang well, felt good and even won over the audience. You know that the audience at Quinta Vergara is insubordinate and when they don't like something they even rave. That's where the recordings are. But I had already received a similar blow before and the blows help. When I returned to Cuba I delivered all the documentation to the Ministry of Culture. A dossier with several reviews and criticisms that saw me with an award. I remember that five of the nine pollsters assigned me La Gaviota. But you know that in Cuba what you say about yourself is not always valid, even if you can substantiate it as I did. There were many people who said that he won prizes and toured and they were not. The fact is that nothing was said about that in Cuba.

“Already on the OTI in 1994, when I presented that song, I thought of a bachata, but a little in my own way, with some rock influences. That was love and chains. At that time the festivals were going through different times, where maybe the artistic and the level of composition could have been taken into account, that's why I think I presented a good song. I didn't have so many hopes of getting far at that festival, due to previous experiences, where the artistic criterion was even mixed with the political if you take a look. I went to defend my song with dignity and got to be among the 12 finalists, after a round there in Spain, but that's as far as I got. 

“I think they took me hard. I remember that I received only three points from the jury, two from José Feliciano and one more, I don't remember who. Festival songs should always have enough of a commercial impact that you can make money out of them, in addition to the impact on youth and other factors. But I was satisfied with the result, and I understand that there were other songs that were ahead. It was a more natural conviction compared to what had happened to me in the previous ones. After that festival I decided not to return to Cuba.”

Shortly after settling in Spain, Osvaldo emigrated to Miami. His songs with political content actually a meager and minority representation of his work, as well as his interpretation of The March of the Fighting People (without contextualizing the difference, that there is, between the commitment to be part of a work and the propagandistic and material use that is made after it) have earned him countless misunderstandings and radicalism in that city. An environment, sometimes though never in its entirety become a mirror of what it is usually opposed to.

Such simplifications never took into account that, as a troubadour, Osvaldo also composed songs with a critical spirit such as The rap of my vacations or Rectification.

Even so, Osvaldo civically decided to apologize in public in his new city. Some continue without forgiveness or forgiveness; some forgive and turn the page; some do not see Osvaldo in terms of pain and forgiveness, and they only see the musician, his work and the culture that unites them, fortunately.

flash back. The Arabs 

“My first contact with music, after hearing the crowing of the roosters that was part of my life in Los Arabos, where I was born, were the cans of juice that I collected in the garbage cans, sardines, tomato puree, also the crystal glasses, baccarat glasses. As a child I made music out of all that. The first thing I did was take the tumbao out of the peanut stand, which I could do with four cans. He tuned them by pounding them on the floor and grinding them a bit. My mother's family, with whom I lived, the only thing they understood was that I was dirtying the floor and filling it with rust, and they threw the cans at me. 

“Then it came to their attention how it was possible that I, being blind, would show up the next day with exactly the same cans that had been thrown in the dump. There they began to realize that he had an interest in music. But that had its process, with many scoldings, they wouldn't let me out. They were the things of misunderstanding”.

Osvaldo was not born blind, nor was Arsenio Rodríguez or Frank Emilio, two other Cuban musicians with a long history and privileged hearing who, like him, ended up losing their sight entirely. However, from a clinical point of view, the poor vision he had in his left eye which only allowed him for a few years to recognize some shapes and colors in a very vague way caused its almost total limitation in this sense.

His primary education, in the 50s, was only possible if he moved to Havana, which was where the required special education was based: the Cultural Foundation for the Blind, Manuel Varona Suarez.

How did you manage to convince them then? 

“Little by little that understanding was coming. My mom, who worked in agriculture, once I entered school, she started buying me ordinary harmonicas.

“Imagine that in my naivety I started wanting to play songs that were in a minor key, which was not possible on those harmonicas. I remember that song In the darkness, in the part that said: the bitter sweet of despair, which is: Si – Do – Si – La – La- La- La – Si – La – Sol# – La – Si. Well, that "PE" is a G sharp (G#) and that note was not possible to give on the harmonica. Then a natural Sun came out and I said to myself: but that note can't be! And I got what I have of gross peasant, and broke the philharmonic”. 

Your ears told you that that note wasn't going there, but you, a child after all, didn't understand that the instrument wasn't designed for that.

"Exactly. That's why I broke several. Later I realized that at school there was a boy who had one with a little button for the bras. That was the one I would have wanted to get. Later my mother bought me a xylophone and that allowed me to continue fantasizing about music a little more”. 

 At the age of ten he managed to start his music studies. Then the guitar appeared:

“When I was 10 years old, the Foundation, which was where I studied all my primary school studies, opened a call for the study of the guitar and I managed to enter. Already at school I began to study music theory and theory with a teacher named Fausto de Armas. He was the director of the Antares Ensemble and with him I started all that, translated into the Braille system. Already the study of the guitar as such was with a teacher named Débora Cabrera. With her I learned studies of Villalobos and many other classics, but the popular always caught my attention more. So when my mother bought me the guitar that was one of the happiest days of my life I started going to the barbershop on weekends, where I lost my cane. The main barber played guitar and with him I learned what I couldn't learn in school. He taught me to play the guaracha, the son and the huapango. He taught me how to scratch."

Voices of the Tropics

October 1968, Victoria Theater, Isle of Youth. The billboard announces two concerts: a debutant group called Los 5U4, preceded by a quartet that had already achieved some recognition: Voces del Trópico. Everyone believes that these are two different groups. To some extent they are. But not its musicians who only limited themselves to changing a few instruments between the first and second part of the day. 

How did Voices of the Tropic come about?

“At school I begin my relationship with the colleagues who make up Voices of the Tropics: Amelia, Bertica and Leonardo. We were all students in the same grade, but it never occurred to us to get together to make a group, although we did sing in the activities. At that time I used to write my own songs as I was gaining mastery of the guitar, and I was already accompanying myself.

“Now, the Voces del Trópico quartet emerges in one of the school activities, when we realized that we could sing and accompany each other at the same time. Once we prepared something for an activity and someone asked us why we didn't continue. It had never occurred to us to make a quartet. Each one had their individual ideas, Bertica and Amelia to sing  although they both played the guitar, and Bertica ended up doing it in Los 5U4, Leonardo to play the guitar and I to sing and accompany myself. That was a casual start. That's how the quartet came about and we prepared a repertoire”.

Osvaldo, Leonardo, Bertica and Amelia managed to attend regular secondary education at night and on their own at the Conrado Duany school, even staying as boarders at the Foundation where they began their primary studies. It was in that high school that Voces del Trópico debuted.  

“Someone I don't remember pushed us to go to an office that was in Habana Libre, related to shows. And so we did, without recommendation or godparents or anything. There they listened to us and gave us the authorization letter to be able to form the quartet, without being professionals yet. With that letter we debuted in a program called Party, by Oscar Luis López, where the sketch of Tota and Pepe, who were Maritza Rosales and Manolín Álvarez. There was music before and after sketch

“There were other projects that did not come to fruition apart from Voces del Trópico and Los 5U4. Leonardo and I had an idea of working with a peasant group together with a tres player, but that didn't happen. In the end we did some work with the quartet, first they suspended us for three or four months because there was a certain back and forth with the letter, that if the one who signed it said that he had not signed it, all after we had started gain some strength. It was finally fixed and the Sindicato de Voces y Cuerdas gave us the work card in October 1966”. 


After his departure, obviously, it becomes more difficult for us to trace his work from Cuba. When one reconstructs these last years of his, I am personally struck, seen from his facet as a composer, by the twist and effectiveness of sones and guarachas. I think of the legacy of Ñico Saquito passing through Pedro Luis Ferrer, for example, when perhaps one might think that this was not his main line. I talk about things like Miami or The brushed peasant, which are very authentic guarachas. Was that always there, or does it come out more now that it is far from Cuba?

“Yes, in part it can be seen as a return to the roots. It is a mixture of factors. In the case of Miami that influence you say is obvious but it is also marked by my previous work, for example, in Four tenths and one are for Los Arabos which is the most direct point of contact. However, he was not the only one, because on the album farandulero (Areito LD-4337) there are samples of that. But I recognize that in recent years there has been a return to those roots. Having created a few songs together with nostalgia gives you the facility to do it a little better. 

“On the other hand, before rock came I used to sing a lot of guarachas that I heard on shows like Creole prints of Radio Progress. There I listened to soneros such as Pipo Hernández, Pío Leyva, Mongo Huerta playing the guitar, José Manuel Rodríguez's group: Los Montunos, other peasant groups such as Juanito Rodríguez Peña's, Raúl Lima's, Miguel Ojeda. That nourished me a lot and, thinking about it better now, your observation is valid because many things of mine come from there and that has allowed me to be broader”.

Miami is known on the networks for a presentation of hers in America TeVe...

“Yes, but to that program of America TeVe the fourth unit of the song is missing, it's cut off. It's a shame. Here on television you work a lot against the clock and the producer is always against the ropes. If you add to that that what they always ask for are moved numbers, well, you know…”.

Does that song belong to an album with the same name?

"Yes, that's what it's called. That is a very familiar album that also speaks of the vision that I have of Miami. that album has The brushed peasant

Your recent version of Saint Elizabeth of Las Lajas, belonging to the album Sunset, In addition to the novelty that the work represents a cappella and with the sounds of the body, it can be said that it is in a similar line…

“I remember that in the school for the blind we made orchestrations a cappella, more or less like what Sampling does now, and I said to myself: why not record songs with the same idea, like Saint Elizabeth…? It just so happens that those songs were also my influence when I was young. It can be said that I changed palo pa' rumba, because before rock, my influence is what I listened to during the second half of the 50s and the first half of the 60s. My hobby was also listening to Benny Moré, which will take out again, Roberto Faz, Fernando Álvarez, Pacho Alonso, Lino Borges, Wilfredo Mendi. Those were my references in those years. 

"When I made Saint Elizabeth of Las Lajas I thought of the orchestral arrangement with the voices and the hands. I was passionate about that music and in those years, as a child, I sang it myself, with my hands, accompanying myself as far as I could, learning the arrangements. Saint Elizabeth… I made it thinking of my childhood and to make it clear that I am Cuban and feel the same about the most authentic and traditional Cuban music. What happens is that when I became an artist I had the foundation to create my own songs, and those already had to do with what was happening and not with what had happened.

But in the end he has swum like a fish in water through all these genres, he is included...

“Well, at the beginning of the 70s there was a character in Cuba named Erick Romay, who was the one who gave the first impetus to the musicalization of soap operas based on instrumentalists. Formell and I musicalized a staging that Erick Romay did as director of The Maelstrom, a novel. He told me something that Raúl Planas also told me over time and even Formell himself: that I had the soul of a sonero. Today that catches my attention because they were three people with different styles and professions. In the end I became a bit infatuated with doing my own thing, and I sought to influence the genres of Cuban music with my vision, such as including certain rock-specific scratches in the syncopation of the son. 

"I made what I could".

I hold in my hands what I consider to be the troubadour's best album. A coffee and a momentary solitude at home are the perfect allies to put the last lines of this trip. The turntable platter rotates. Side A, track no.1: without ever

Rarely have I identified a Cuban album with such a level of coherence. Everything revolves around a couple of simple ideas that I now perceive as an echo in this story, without genres or labels, without time horizons. Only music.

It is true that one day everything will pass. But the good songs will always be floating in the air. And Osvaldo knows that it was worth having lived to have launched a few. I don't know if he believes it, but, for me, he is one of the chosen ones.

Avatar photo Rafael Valdivia Wandering vinyl collector in the skein of Cuban discography. Engineer ever. The great soneros of yesteryear are never missing from his playlist. More posts

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  1. Antonio Arroyo says:

    In-depth journalistic investigation on an Essential Artist and as Cuban as the sea that surrounds us. Thank you Raphael.

  2. Ana Cordoves Madrazo says:

    He is a magnificent musician. I always liked boleros, especially, my favorite is Simple Proposal, but in no interview that I read about him does he mention it and I guess it is one of his best.
    Thank you for allowing me to comment on this excellent Cuban artist

  3. Jorge De Feria says:

    Thanks. Excellent and detailed article on the great Osvaldo Rodriguez.

  4. Edilia Mon says:

    Formidable, spectacular, I think nothing was missing, thanks for the time

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