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Pablo Milanés, great musician and critic of the Cuban regime, dies

Tonhe first The columnist first heard Pablo Milanés perform at an impromptu Saturday afternoon concert in 1986 in a shantytown on the outskirts of the desert of Lima. Silvio Rodríguez accompanied him on that and many other occasions.They were tireless musical ambassadors of the Cuban revolution, which, despite its police state, still fueled protests against deportation Janquis and its achievements in healthcare and education. Over the next few decades, the revolution shrank into a repressive imitation. But Mr Milanés, who died of cancer in a Madrid hospital on November 22, has been growing. He was a voice, a musician and a poet, a transcendent Cuban who was critical of his country’s regime but loyal to its people. He died in voluntary exile, just as the island plunged into a new abyss of despair.

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Born in Bayamo to the east, the heartland of Fidel Castro’s revolution, the young Mr Milanez soon fell out with the new authorities. Sent to a “sociopath” work camp in Castro for military service, he escaped and was jailed again, eventually finding a place at the government’s art academy.There, he founded with Mr. Rodriguez and others new troy, a new song movement that combines political commitment with folk music. But while Mr. Rodríguez remained loyal to both the music genre and the government, Mr. Milanés quickly moved beyond both. The two eventually fell out.

His voice is melodious, smooth and full-bodied like 20-year-old rum. A rare all-rounder, guitarist, pianist, singer and composer, he has released 50 albums. His influences range from Baroque and Renaissance music to Afro-Cuban rhythms (he himself is black), jacket and the pre-revolutionary voices that have reclaimed their fame at the Buena Vista Social Club. Early on, he began writing musical poems by Cuban poets such as Nicolas Guillen. During an extraordinarily fertile period in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he found his poetic voice.

In “Yo pisaré las calles nuevamente/de lo que fue Santiago ensangrentada” (“I will once again tread the blood-stained streets of Santiago”), he mourns the Chilean coup against Salvador Allende and those who died in August The man in the hands of General Sto Pinochet. But his love songs will live on. They’re lyrical but tense, sensual, bittersweet, with as much loss as ecstasy. In “Para vivir” (“For Life”), he urges his lover to renounce a relationship “lacking flesh and lust”. In “El Breve Espacio”, “todavía quedan restos de humedad/sus olores llenan ya mi soledad/en la cama su silueta/se dibjua cual promesa/de llenar el breve espacio/en que no está” (“Traces of damp still Presence/her scent now fills my solitude/outlines she draws in bed/promises to fill the ephemeral spaces of her absence”).

Political disillusionment crept into his work like a melancholy Havana morning.In “Días de Gloria” (“Days of Glory”), “I live with the ghosts that feed [us] Dreams and false promises. He criticized the survival of Stalinism in Cuba, the lack of rights and freedoms, the lack of reforms. He believed that the regime’s rapprochement with the United States under Barack Obama would not lead to much results, and it turned out to be correct. He Still leftist, loyal to the ideals of the revolution, he said, but “cheated” by its leaders. He moved permanently to Spain for medical treatment. Protests erupted across Cuba last year against poverty, power outages and the mismanagement of the pandemic. The government responded with mass arrests. Mr Milanez was blunt: “It is irresponsible and absurd to blame and suppress a people who have sacrificed and given everything for decades to maintain a regime that ultimately imprisoned them. “

Cuba’s ruling communist bureaucrats began to criticize Mr Milanez as a “counter-revolutionary”, but they feared him. He is much older than them. In the past year, and later on his farewell tour, he has performed in both Havana and Miami, and he is one of the few Cuban artists to receive applause in both places. His death comes as the country sinks into the abyss of demoralization. Over the past 12 months, more than 200,000 Cubans (almost 2% of the population) have been prevented from trying to enter the United States. Many young artists followed Mr. Milanez to Spain, turning Madrid into the cultural capital of Cuba in exile. “Where were my friends yesterday,” Mr. Milanez sings on “Éxodo,” (“Exodus”), released in 2000. “What happened to them? Where did they go? How sad I am.” Many Cubans say the same now.

Read more from our Latin America columnist Bello:
The race to become Latin America’s next top development banker (November 10)
Lula’s foreign policy ambitions will be affected by circumstances (November 3)
A film about Argentina’s history reveals today’s politics (October 27)

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