Cuba’s Silvio Rodriguez & Whirlwind

Osmel Almaguer(*)

Silvio Rodriguez. photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 10 — Silvio Rodriguez figures among the most internationally significant Cuban singer-songwriters of all times.  Performing since 1964, he contributed to the formation of Nueva Trova Cubana musical movement.  At the same time, he has remained closely tied to the political and social situation in the country and across the whole of the American continent.

Silvio’s discography has expanded to a total of 26 original disks and more than 50 performances recorded with other important Cuban and international figures in music: ones such as Pablo Milanes, Jose Maria Vitier and Luis Eduardo Aute.

His songs reflect, they question and enter into dialogue with the most immediate realities.  They reach soaring poetic flight and are able to transmit feelings with a tremendous intensity. This quality, on par with his serious musical experimentation, has transformed Silvio into one of the most sublime figures of the Cuban musical panorama.

RABO DE NUBE  (Whirlwind), title track from a CD cut in 1980

This is a song of surprising simplicity, supported instrumentally by the harp and with lyrics that are brief.

If they asked me / I’d request but one wish / I’d prefer a whirlwind / a cyclone on the ground / with a great anger that rises / a sweeping away of sadness / a downpour taking revenge / and when it stopped raining / there would appear our hope.

(This is repeated.)

The song is added like a drop of water.  It is a small comment about how the author feels, but not about any feelings of selfishness, because he’s thinking in terms of “our” hope.

It was composed by Silvio in the reflective 1970s, a complex time within the Cuban social stage. The effervescence of the ‘60s —with its radical changes— had passed, and the country faced a stage of reform, of difficult decisions – occasionally even arbitrary ones.

The artist’s ethical position was not to stop criticizing what was happening, however this turned out to be a difficult task; it was necessary to do it without the officials considering it a direct attack against the Revolution.  Minds were very closed, and it was difficult for a spirit like Silvio’s to navigate those waters.

Rabo de nube might seem like just another song that sought to express the sensation of asphyxia and sadness.  However, it was the title of the record and continues to be well remembered by a people who initially weren’t able to appreciate the sense of Silvio’s songs in their full magnitude.

It’s surprising how, after three decades since its release, it still contains so many truths. Today, the same as in the ‘70s, almost any Cuban seems to prefer that “whirlwind” that sweeps away the sadness, that cleans like a catharsis, for our new hope.

From time immemorial, people have rebelled against the forces of nature, and against their own power, always rejecting everything that affects them.  Rabo de nube is an excellent re-creation of that feeling that is so universal.

(*)A Musical Bridge from Cuba: This is an effort to find new bridges that promote communication between peoples of the diverse regions of the planet. I will be using simple narration in a series of articles to connect with those who are interested in the messages transmitted by Cuban songs, which due to their limited commercial potential and the difficulties posed by their translation, languish in a state of communicational stagnation – despite their being true jewels of Cuban culture.