Silvio Rodriguez with Diakara
This 2021 Silvio Rodríguez joined the list of musicians who rescues hidden gems in the trunks of his catalog. Three decades later, that sort of urban legend that was Silvio Rodríguez with Diakara saw the light, in a strange time, but that somehow seems the right one to listen to these songs. Songs about education and prejudice, about fleeting loves, about friends who leave, about political beliefs. Music born from the marvelous conjunction between an impeccable band —blessed are you, Oscarito Valdés, wherever you are— and an author who at the height of 1991 was at the peak of his compositional skills. This is a dialogue that tries to reduce the distance that separates us from the birth of an exceptional work. Perhaps on a first listen you have to dust it off a bit, but right away you'll see that in there we find more than one clue to know “what spelling the song that opens the seven doors is written with”.
What is the history of this record? According to what I read, it is the result of some recordings made in Mexico in 1991. Why did it never see the light of day, why now?
“The history of the record is explained in the introductory note I wrote for Silvio Rodríguez With Diakara”.
Silvio Rodríguez With Diákara (record note)Silvio Rodríguez Domínguez14.12.2021
“About the parents It is a song written in 1969. I was 22 years old and lived in Cuba, a country that had been revolutionizing for a decade. That means that many things were questioned; among them, aspects of the old dominant morality. My generation, more open than the previous one, starred in the front row of the social struggle that all that meant”.
Fifty years later the validity of that song is still intact. Why do you think we are stuck in these dilemmas?
"I guess what can survive at the present time of about parents it is because overcoming some prejudices depends on economic development, something that, as a country, we have not achieved. Also because the ʽyou have so many vouchers' and the ʽmighty gentleman' keep doing their thing. But although these old ghosts continue and in a certain sense 'they can' us, I think that today we are closer to overcoming some of my song's proposals, because they are more visible problems than then and, consequently, because there are more people with a critical view of the matter. .
Variations on an old theme
"It's a song about a friend's suicide."
Who was Eduardo Castañeda, and who was he for you?
“I met Eduardo Castañeda at Oscar Lewis's house, when the North American anthropologist was doing field work in Havana. Eduardo was a leader of the University Student Federation, a young man who was sanctioned to work on the construction of dams on the Isle of Youth. Some friends visited him there, several of them founders of The Bearded Cayman. Later he went to work at the Cuban Book Institute, where he started the publishing house Pluma en Ristre. One of the first books he screened was a volume of my texts, with a small disc at the end (the first book-disc that I know of). But one night, while I was at a Noel Nicola concert in Bellas Artes, Oscar came and told us that Eduardo had taken his own life. We arrived at the place and collided with the legal process that usually accompanies this type of tragedy. It was all a very strong shock."
In 1969 he was only 23 years old, however this theme could perfectly have been written by the Silvio of today. Do you consider that you already had an old soul then?
“The whole circumstance was shocking. There are realities that age. (I clarify that I fulfilled 23 aboard the motor-fishing boat Playa Giron, journey that had not yet happened)”.
“Prostitution had been a fairly widespread trade in Cuba before the triumph of the Revolution. Many were young peasant women who were brought to the cities, deceived with various promises, and in reality it was to prostitute them. My father had to be one of the educators of prostitutes. That is why, being a teenager, I had the opportunity to go through the classrooms where those ladies were rehabilitated. There they learned to read and write, and later were employed as drivers in public transport and in other jobs. After that, more than a decade passed without prostitution being visible. In the early 1980s, when foreign tourism began in Cuba, it was a surprise for many to see that old trade reappear, which we thought had been eradicated forever. At that time, nationals were not allowed to stay in hotels, which were only for tourists. This combination of realities gave rise to night flowers"
Do you still find a song like that relevant? Would you change something?
“For years, we nationals can stay in any hotel, as long as we can afford it. On the other hand, Fifth Avenue is no longer that nocturnal garden that it was in the 80s (or at least it is not as visible as it was then). from this reality night flowers It seems like a conjunctural song”.
Currently there are many voices that speak of the need to legitimize and naturalize sex work, don't you think that this romantic vision of the song decomplexes this phenomenon of sex work? Because there is no single reason; there are those who do it for pleasure, or out of necessity, or because they see it as just another job.
“Prostitution, as a job, creates a certain emotional conflict in me: by training I cannot avoid being hurt that an act that I attribute to love or, if you will, to hormones, has to be commercialized. I would prefer that, if not for love, it be given out of sympathy or solidarity. Still, I understand how the world is —this world that so many women and men have struggled to improve— And, of course, I respect people's free will."
“Emilia Sánchez is a poet, philologist, teacher and essayist from Camagüey, whom I met when we were both 18 years old and I was doing my military service. We hardly saw each other in the short and spaced permits they gave me. That sometimes led me to escape from the military camp where I was stationed. When we managed to see each other, we walked, went to the movies, exchanged readings. She taught me César Vallejo and I taught Lord Byron. We still congratulate each other on birthdays and greet each other from time to time.”
In his songs, memory, often romantic, is a recurring idea. Is Silvio an evocator, a nostalgic?
"Is someone not?"
song of the past
“At that time I was working in the Icaic Sound Experimentation Group and one of my functions was to make music for films and documentaries. That was the origin of song of the past, if I remember correctly, composed for a documentary by Miguel Torres”.
It says here that "The past is the specter of a triple-faced jester." It is one of those songs that demonstrates the impact of Vallejo's poetry on his work, especially in the early years. How indebted do you feel to Vallejo? At what point does influence become a burden to rebel against?
“If you only knew… That verse wasn't in the original song. I added it at the beginning of the 90s, when I went to edit it with Diákara, to lengthen the theme a bit. It's good that it reminds you of Vallejo. I wrote it thinking that the heads of Cerberus could look like the Joker from Batman.
"I don't remember why I did Look, but then I lived in 23 and 24, where I had a balcony from where I looked”.
There are known classics, and cult classics, like this song. How do you think songs like these will be received by fans who have never had the opportunity to listen to them before?
"I have no idea. Surely like old music; or who knows if from another planet. Most of today's songs tend to be very different, in form and content”.
“The güije is a mythological being from our fields; a little character that lives in lakes and rivers, smaller than a man, who comes out at night and scares those who see him. Folklorists say that it has not been possible to determine if it is part of the imagery brought by African slaves or if it is an autochthonous myth, that is, from our first Taino, Siboney and Guanahatabey settlers. My song is just a story that occurred to me, about a güije (also called jigües). By the way, now I remember that years later I wrote part of a ballet with that theme”.
Some songs like El güije, were already known by their followers but were not part of the official discography, do you think they will be well received in this second life?
"The guije she was known because she often sang it with the guitar. Later I included it in a concert with the Symphony Orchestra, at the Mella Theater, among a bunch of songs that Juan Márquez orchestrated and that we call suite of love This work encouraged him and he directed Manolo Duchesne [Cuzán]. I don't know how these songs are going to be received (I don't usually have ideas about it), although I remember that, at the time, some people liked them. On El güije I know that it is my niece Mariela's favorite song (of mine).
This song is one of the rare examples in our music of themes that refer to popular mythology, why do you think these myths are usually absent from our music?
“Because there is no dissemination of peasant folklore. I got to know Samuel Feijoó, painter, poet and researcher of these issues. It is unfortunate that there are currently no programs, documentaries and books about it. I don't know if the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore, founded by Argeliers León, will continue to function, where, by the way, Noel Nicola worked”.
"Fool was written on January 14, 1991, although it had been cooking. The Soviet Union had been falling apart for years. Foreseeing the commotion that was going to be, in 1989 I toured the country. We call you For our country and it was with the group Afrocuba. Then the wall fell/they knocked down, came the collapse and Fidel planted. Fool is that. Especially that moment when overnight % 80 disappeared from our international trade and we entered into a crisis. It was a defining moment."
This is one of his most explicitly political songs, and one that most beautifully resolves his implication (although I confess that I have my conflicts with some of his ideas). I have always read it as a declaration of principles, is it?
"Fool it is a song written in a circumstance, as all songs tend to be. It's just that. If 50 years later you need to make it your own, I think it's your right. As it is also your right not to like it. I made it for myself, as always”.
Do you detect any parallel between the context in which the song was born in 1991 and the one we live in in 2021?
“Today is also a consequence of then, but Cuba has never been more threatened than now. At least propagandistically. The rightward shift of the northern regime strengthened a right that was already advancing throughout the world. This generated a strong smear campaign against socialism (which, of course, is not perfect). Today not everyone dares to speak well of Cuba and its project. On the other hand, there is a tendency towards polarization: whoever defends the idea of the Revolution is an official; and whoever is critical of something in the Revolution is an enemy and is paid by the empire. The one who claims that he is not from one extreme or the other, is a centrist. Everything seems to have its little sign”.
Some people read "I die as I lived" as an elegy to immobility, and pass by the "walking I was what I was", why do you think that is due?
“It makes me laugh that Fool Call it an immobilizer. First time I hear it. I hope it's not your ʽconflicts with some of your ideas'. Another line that is not quoted from this song is that of praying ʽa son of ours'. That was what he wanted and means that young people were and are the future. I trust that youth will continue to dream of multiplying loaves and fishes. Nothing about immobility”.
Of the absence and of you, Velia
“Velia Ramírez is a Mexican friend I met when she was almost back in her country, after a vacation in Havana. We went to museums, we ate ice cream at Coppelia, we sat on the Malecón and we ended up visiting Teté Vergara.”
First, thank you for writing and finally posting this, one of your most beautiful songs.
Emilia, Velia, they are real people, but then it is more difficult to find those direct references in their work; Is it an outgrown mannerism of youth or are there other causes?
“ʽOutdated mannerism of youth'… I don't quite understand if you mean that they are songs that I baptized with their own names. There are others where I did it too, like Grace and olivia. I don't think that makes them special though. Or if? Anecdotally, most of my songs are based on personal experiences."
I liked the raw, confessional tone of the clean guitar version better. Aren't you afraid that some fans will lament the change of the song with the new orchestration?
“I have never been akin to the unconditional; That must be why the fans keep me up at night. And if there is someone who prefers the guitar version of a song, then listen to it. I also like the guitar versions. What I compose I always assume as a starting point; not even my guitar versions are identical”.
"As a child I wondered what the year 2000 would be like, the turn of the century, it was a fascinating idea for someone born in 46."
What did the year 2000 sound like?
“To something incomplete; That is why I invoked hope.”
The arrangement (blessed be Chucho Valdés) is very similar to that of the concert in Chile. Does it seem to you, as it does to me, one of the most beautiful musical passages of your work?
“The piano is identical because, in both versions, it is Chucho who plays it. A couple of Diákara musicians, the brothers Oscarito and Diego Valdés, were also at the National Stadium. The arrangement is the same as we did with Irakere. If it sounds different, it's only because Diákara was a band with far fewer musicians”.
As a child I heard that song countless times, by my parents, by their friends, by the radio, and one fine day it disappeared. Is there a metaphor in that fade?
"It doesn't occur to me."
Has hope disappeared? Is singing it again a call to recover it?
"It may be that today, at least apparently, there is not as much uniformity of hope as in the 1990s, but it is difficult for hope to be extinguished, while there is life."
Is hope love?
"Hope is need, just like love."