Spanish Folk Singer Rafa Bocero Interview

Helson Hernandez

Rafa Bocero

HAVANA TIMES —  A folk-music auteur, Rafa Bocero has made his work known to Cubans through numerous concerts on the island. “The genre is very strong at the moment,” he said during his interview with Havana Times.

HT: Have you always sung folk music?

Rafa Bocero: I started playing the guitar when I was fifteen, as the member of a rock band that was around when I was a teenager. After hearing folk musician Silvio Rodriguez for the first time, I got hold of an acoustic guitar, called a “Spanish guitar” in my country. That’s when I felt the urge to play folk music, to write songs and express myself through them. I’ve also studied other things. I have a bachelor’s in Philosophy. I’ve also done other things, pretty much everything.

HT: When did you write your first song and throw your first concert?

RB: I wrote my first song when I was 18. I had my first concerts, with my own pieces, also at that age.

HT: You first came to Cuba through the Pablo de la Torriente Brau Center.

RB: I threw my first concerts in Cuba thanks to an invitation made to me by this institution. This allowed me to show Cubans my music, not only in Havana, but also other provinces around the country.

HT: How did you first come in contact with this institution?

RB: There is a well-known folk-music historian in Spain who specializes in this auterist genre (as produced not only in the country, but across Latin America as well). His name is Fernando Lucini. He is a friend and collaborator of the director of the Pablo de la Torriente Brau Center, Cuban writer Victor Casaus, whom I knew through his documentaries and books about that marvelous generation of folk music auteurs on the island. That’s where the idea to do something in Cuba came from. I enjoy doing research work very much, and my trip to Cuba was not only an opportunity to play my music, but to gather experiences and testimonies for my studies.

HT: You had one of your most memorable experiences in Cuba’s province of Ciego de Avila.

RB: Yes, I participated in a festival called Trovandote, a nationwide gathering of young folk-music auteurs. This was fascinating for me, to tell the truth. It was thanks to this gathering that I met many contemporary Cuban folk musicians from my generation. There, I played next to the musicians in Polo Montañez’ band and even recorded a guitar number for one of their albums with Cuba’s EGREM label.

HT: Tell us about your song La patria de los locos (“Country of Fools”).

RF: Everyone is free to reach their own conclusions after listening to my songs, but, from my point of view, what I’m doing is trying to understand the world we live in. But, like I say, people can create the stories they like. Trying to spoon-fed people a message isn’t a good thing. What you can be sure of is that the song isn’t a love story, it is a social critique.

HT: A folk-music auteur from Cordoba, Spain, the land of flamenco, strikes me as rather odd.

RB: Yes, I have flamenco in my blood, and I’ve sung it, but I don’t consider myself an artist of this genre. I tend to perform it with a lot of respect. The thing is, to sing it well, you have to be very familiar with a series of canons, in terms of form and content. When I feel the need to sing it, I do it, of course.

HT: What are your influences as a song-writer and singer?

RB: Silvio Rodriguez’ music taught me that a song can draw from many different genres and that you don’t need a uniform structure. Even though Flamenco is quite a broad genre, you can’t really break out of a certain structure. Listening to Rodriguez’ music gave me a great sense of freedom.

HT: Tell us about Esencia.

Rafa Bocero

RB: It’s my first record, the one that gave me the strength to start new projects. I produced the record and we distributed it widely in Spain and Portugal, where we also organized some big tours to promote my music.

HT: What was it like working with Raul Torres?

RB: Getting to know him and working with him was an incredible experience. He is already a well-established artist in Spain, after all. The idea of working together on one of his songs came from this.

HT: What can you tell us about folk musicians in Spain?

RB: People don’t usually say “folk music” in Spain. They speak of songwriters. Let’s just take these as synonyms. There are many folk musicians in Barcelona and Madrid. They are the two places I know where this is happening.

Recently, historian Fernando Lucini launched a blog which traces the history of this music tradition in Spain. Thanks to it, many people around the country are becoming exposed to our music.

You’ve got the more famous ones, of course, like Luis Eduardo Aute and Johan Manuel Serrat, but there are many others who have sprung up in response to social changes. Industry pressures have eased up a bit, and the genre is very strong at the moment.

HT: What can you tell us about this Spanish word, “trova”, used to describe folk music?

RB: It comes from Arabic, “tara”, which means essence, magic. And I think this is what the folk musician is after when he sings, a fusion of poetry and music, of the guitar and voice.