HAVANA TIMES — The extraordinary downpour that stirred the city’s dirt on Saturday afternoon didn’t stop Frank Delgado or his loyal fans.
While my wife and I were waiting for the bus in the rain, the road and pavement disappeared under a muddy lake that covered our shoes, but we weren’t afraid of the oil stains that were surrounding us or of the possibility of catching leptospirosis as a result of the chubby rats that were trying to save themselves from drowning by hurrying out of the blocked drains. We looked out for the digital number in red lights of the bus in the grey distance that would take us to Frank.
Like he himself has said so many times: “it isn’t water-soluble”, that’s why we, his parishioners, go every Saturday afternoon to see him at 6 PM, no matter how bad the weather is, in the small space he has in Almendares Park, where he sings to us, reads to us, talks to us and tells us about his past, his experiences, some jokes about celebrities or some anecdotes about his travels across the globe, in intimate harmony.
Frank Delgado is the most intelligent singer in this country, and his tall, round, thick-haired body hides the best male voice and the best singing technique in the history of intelligent songs in Spanish. He would have earned an important place in national culture just with his voice if he had used his voice to sing sweet boleros, he would have a more important pedestal than the one he has in national culture.
However, Frank is a man of principles and you pay dearly for having principles in Cuba. State institutions which control culture (extensions of the Communist Part) haven’t been able to forgive his irreverence, his critical discourse, the cutting and impudent way he talks and sings about Che, about Fidel or about socially traumatic experiences we’ve had in our more recent history: emigration, poverty (both moral and material) or the military adventures in Africa. But, they have especially not been able to forgive the balls he has when he ignores warnings, threats, scorn or subpoenas.
There, with his group on every Saturday, a few of us (sometimes we aren’t even 100), have the great privilege of having Frank Delgado sing to us, greet us one by one in a more personal way, as if we were life-long friends, and he pleases us with songs that sometimes he can’t remember the words to after having composed thousands over the course of his career. With talent and passion he has overcome the blockade (not the US embargo) that those who were afraid of him wanted to subject him to.
Today, after 60 years of state control and a cultural monopoly stifling creativity, when the Cuban music they are defending has degenerated from glorious Son to vulgar Timba and now to disgusting reggaeton, today, in the country with the highest level of university graduates, it is hard to find an audience that is able to enjoy the intelligence and humor in Frank Delgado’s great songs. While Frank charges 10 CUP and sometimes seats are left empty, a reggaeton artist can charge 1440 CUP, 144 times more, for every ticket and fills the venue, that’s reason enough for the government to take a mea culpa and discreetly disappear from our lives, praying that we don’t blame them for the social disaster that they have bogged us with.
Challenging the State’s cultural control further, the Saturday club also includes a segment called CHARLAS TED (after TED TALKS) where Eduardo Del Llano, the daring creator of the semi-underground short movies known as “Los Nicanor” reads us some funny stories and we laugh hysterically, which is our necessary weekly catharsis, always with a hidden and extremely fine critique of Cuba today, which a cheesier journalist than I would say “delights his audience”.
It’s no wonder that Frank Delgado hasn’t taken the place he deserves in this musical island, that he hasn’t had access to promotion, that his music is never put on the TV/radio, which are all state-controlled, that nobody has interviewed him on one of the countless and boring music programs that they badger us with on TV, nor of course that he hasn’t been invited to take part in one of those big concerts that they take more docile singer-songwriters to.
Saturday night always ends with Frank thanking us for having come to share his space, he is always moved to be in his environment, to know that he has been appreciated and understood in all his artistic grandeur. I have no doubt that’s where this dear man, who doesn’t fear anything, or is afraid of everything, feels the best.