Daily Telegraph: Silvio Rodriguez Review

Campaign News | Friday, 29 September 2006

Lyricism of a Latin American hero

Silvio Rodrìguez BARBICAN

BY Peter Culshaw

29 September 2006

The Daily Telegraph

WHILE a mainstream audience in this country has discovered the joys of Cuban music in the past decade, throughout Latin America Silvio Rodríguez is a much more potent and famous name than the Buena Vista Social Club and its offshoots. A totemic figure akin to Bob Dylan, for this almost entirely Latin audience Rodríguez is a heroic figure of the intellectual Left, albeit a self-effacing one.

It was Rodríguez, with fellow nueva trova ("new song") artist Pablo Milanés, who played the first big concert in Argentina to mark the end of the dictatorship, and in Chile when Pinochet fell he gave a concert in memory of his friend, the murdered singer Victor Jara.

At his first UK concert for 20 years, the mere mention of his name was enough to generate a standing ovation before he had even shuffled on stage with a line-up of guitar, bass, flute and percussion.

The concert was to raise money for the Music Fund for Cuba, originally established in memory of the Cubaphile singer Kirsty MacColl, specifically for the restoration of the Miramar Community Theatre in Havana. The support slot consisted of good-time Latin party act Ska Cubano, with members of Madness guesting for a couple of numbers in a shambolic, barely-rehearsed collaboration.

Rodríguez, though, was consummately professional, and while the music of his much-loved songs (every single first line was greeted with a huge cheer) is inventive and as much influenced by the Beatles as by traditional Cuban music, it's his lyrics that mark him out as a major artist, one reason for his lack of renown outside Spanish-speaking countries.

His high but grainy voice carries a sense of yearning, a questing ambiguity that set him at odds with the Cuban establishment's wish for certainties in the '60s (although, like many a former rebel, he is now an establishment figure in Cuba and a member of the National Assembly). His densely imagistic songs such as Canto Arena, where he sings of "nailing up signs, deciphering crossroads" and of "awakening in the eye of a hurricane, my soul riddled with holes" are rarely crudely propagandistic. Even on a song such as Playa Girón ("The Bay of Pigs"), the song is about the name of a boat and about the process of writing a song as much as the failed American invasion.

Despite his lack of showbiz presentation, he was not averse to performing perhaps his greatest hits to an ecstatic crowd as his final number and encores - notably Ojala, which means "I Hope So", a song that embodies his wryly optimistic humanitarianism.

Guardian review: Silvio Rodriguez

By John L Walters

Barbican, London

Wednesday September 27, 2006

The Guardian

Cuban songwriter Silvio Rodriguez is so adored in the Spanish-speaking world that he could probably read the newspaper to huge applause. As he enters shyly after his band's opening instrumental, the crowd leapt to their feet, but when his high, clear voice rings out above the clever arrangement of Escaramujo, all is hushed.

Rodriguez was one of the originators of the Nueva Trova (New Song) movement in the 1960s. His songs and lyrics have travelled far within Latin America over the past 40 years, but this is only his second visit to the UK. Even so, each song triggers whoops of recognition.

Accompanied by his wife, flautist Niurka Gonzalez Nunez, two guitarists, an acoustic bass guitar, and a drummer/percussionist, each song is arranged with finesse. However straightforward the tune, there's always room for a flourish from one of his fine guitarists. But it is the songs that prevail: Rodriguez says he learned from the Beatles the knack of making each song different.

Numbers such as El Papalote and Pequena Serenata Diurna (with its unison lines for flute and guitar) feel like complete compositions, literate, mature, full of light and shade. There's no shortage of rhythmic invention, but Rodriguez's reedy voice always cuts through the busy accompaniment. When he sings a ballad such as Sinuhe, his voice is strong and affecting.

A high point is an exquisite song accompanied by John Williams, who pushes Rodriguez to greater emotional heights - what a shame that the classical guitarist did not play more. Rodriguez closes with the popular Ojala and the crowd demands five encores.

Earlier in the evening, Ska Cubana and members of Madness had joined forces for a jam, in which Suggs recited headlines from the Evening Standard. The concert raised money for the Music Fund for Cuba, which aims to restore Teatro Miramar in Havana as an arts centre for music, circus and dance.


Silvio delivers a night to remember

London audience delighted by rare appearance

Silvio Rodriguez, arguably Cuba’s greatest troubadour, delivered a truly memorable performance at London’s Barbican Centre on Friday night.

Almost 2,000 fans ecstatically cheered the 60 year-old singer-songwriter to three encores after a two-hour set, only his second appearance in London in almost 20 years.

The event, organised by the Music Fund for Cuba in order to raise money for the restoration of a disused Havana theatre, also included guest performances from the Ska group Ska Cubano who teamed up with the legendary group Madness headed by lead singer Suggs.

Classical guitarist John Williams also delighted the audience with a sweet duet with Silvio halfway through his set.

Event organiser, Rob Miller of the Music Fund said that all the acts had donated their performances for free: “We are extremely grateful to them all. Thanks to them and this wonderful audience, we have raised many thousands of pounds.

“Silvio’s songs speak to millions across the world. To have him perform here in the UK and help launch this appeal is a double honour.”

The Music Fund for Cuba is a UK charity that works with the Cuban National Centre of Arts and Music Schools CNEArt to meet educational needs in the music and arts. It is embarked on a project with CNEArt to renovate the Miramar Theatre in Havana for use as a public performance space and cultural centre.

Full details can be found at the website:


| top | back | home |
Share on FacebookTweet this