Three Days of Concerts in Santiago de Cuba

Photo Feature by Janis Hernandez

Los Van Van tocaron la tercera noche.

HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 19 — Revolution Square in Santiago de Cuba is currently marking the twentieth year since its inauguration.  It was in 1991 that it opened along with a group of architectural installations on the occasion of this city’s holding of the Fourth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party – the first and only time this party caucus has ever left the nation’s capital.

Ten years earlier a call had been issued for architects and visual artists to submit designs for what was to be a monumental construction project.  Among the numerous plans presented, the winning proposal — by unanimous decision — was that by the distinguished painter and sculptor Alberto Santiago Lescay.

After exhibiting the plans for several months at the city’s cultural center to receive input from other artists and professionals, the construction of the square began in 1982 and was completed on October 14, 1991 after nine years of work. The project involved designers, engineers, architects and other artists, but the overall responsibility and management of the effort was Lescay himself.

Situated at the entrance to the city, its monument is the largest equestrian statue on the island.  It displays the statue of the “Bronze Titan,” Antonio Maceo Grajales, one of the most important figures in our wars of independence.  This native son of Santiago is mounted on horseback seeming to protect the gates of the “Heroic City.”  He’s holding his machete up high, and yet the hero is humanized as his large hand seems to be inviting, urging you to follow along with him.

Plaza de la revolución Antonio Maceo

Santiago’s Revolution Square is a beautiful, modern complex that was recently honored as a national monument, though actually it consists of several parts. There’s the sculpture that makes up the statue along with 23 huge steel stakes that symbolize the machetes with which our anti-colonial wars were fought.

In addition there’s an inviting ceremonial and reception hall known as the Hall of Glass. As part of it is a gallery displaying holograms of objects that were personal belongings of the general, a green ceramic staircase that lies in contrast with the grass and the bronze statue, and several entrance passages and interior halls, among which is found the eternal flame.

The square itself has seen many parades, political rallies and hosts of other public events, such as the mass led by Pope John Paul II back in 1998.  Likewise, major concerts have been held here, like the one that just took place over a three day period to celebrate the square’s twentieth anniversary.

Three days of concerts

The first day was on Thursday evening, October 13, with performances by soloists, the traditional music group Familia Varela Miranda, and the choirs Orfeon Santiago and Music Aurea, which were accompanied by the symphonic orchestras of Santiago de Cuba and Holguin. These made for a fascinating blend of voices and styles in performing well-known standards of the national repertoire. In this way, the concert on the first day occurred with a warm public reception.

Silvio Rodriguez

The second day, on Friday the 14th, brought out nearly 5,000 people to hear the more than two-hour concert given by singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez. An audience made up of several generations sung his lyrics along with him, particularly those of the song El necio (The Fool), whose words were printed and distributed to everyone, because this song too was celebrating its twentieth anniversary since it was composed on the occasion of that same Fourth Party Congress in Santiago.

Once the concert was over, Rodriguez came down from the stage to talk with people, sign autographs and have pictures taken with concert goers in the crowded auditorium.

Rain seemed to threaten the third day’s anxiously awaited mega concert by Los Van Van.  But the inclement weather didn’t prevent the most popular group in Cuba from making the Santiago public dance because the concert was held in the main hall of the Heredia Theater, just across from the square. The auditorium was fully packed with people and an uncontrollable euphoria for Los Van Van as the concert ended with the words of its creator Juan Formell: “Thank you Santiago!”

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