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Cuban Music Lesson: Silvio Rodriguez


Get ready to be schooled, asere. It’s time for a Cuban music lesson! Learn to tell your cha cha cha from your mambo without leaving your couch. Put on your dancing shoes, guayaberas, park your 57 Chevy, light up that Habano, and pay attention.

In the early 1960’s, folk music was all the rage. Beatnik types with goatees would listen to Bob Dylan or Joan Baez in dingy coffeehouses in Greenwich Village. They sang songs about lefty politics, the plight of the poor, and tambourine men or whatever. Even though the long cold war with Cuba had begun, folk music found its way to the island. Silvio Rodriguez is the Cuban equivalent of Bob Dylan, but with a much better voice.

Silvio grew up surrounded by socialist politics. His father was a poet that wrote about how many Cubans were oppressed by the foreign corporations that practically enslaved their workers. Silvio had an ear for music, and as a teenager he took up the guitar. This coincided with Fidel and his beard’s triumphal overthrow of the Batista government. The thing about Silvio that we should mention is that he is a straight up commie. Like, unapologeticly to this day red as a proletarian tomato. Silvio began singing songs about the plight of the working stiff worldwide as well as some pretty beautiful love songs. Whether you agree with his politics or not, the guy can sing.

Silvio ran afoul of the Culture Ministry in the mid-sixties. Their job was to eradicate unwanted imperialist American stuff from the culture. Nevermind the fact that he was singing praises to the revolution. Though he’s always been loyal, he has been known to call the Castro government on a lot of their crap. After a while, Fidel stopped worrying so much about what the Soviets thought of Cuban culture and let him be. He has toured all over the world, even getting permission to come to the United States in 2010 to play a few dates in the U.S. This is all part of president Obama’s cultural exchange program. In 2009, Silvio was one of the organizers of the Concert For Peace which was headlined by Juanes. The concert caused the hardliner Cuban exiles in Miami to lose their ever-loving-minds. This probably pleased Silvio to no end. Juanes sang Silvio’s famous song “Ojala” which called for freedom from tyranny. We wonder if he was singing about the U.S or Cuba? Maybe both.

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