14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 22 November 2022 — Three decades ago, when the dial of any radio in Cuba was turned, it was very unlikely not to stumble across, on various stations, the warm voice of Pablo Milanés. It was the time when the Nueva Trova phenomenon was at its peak on the island, and the singer-songwriter was starring in concerts, interviews, television programs, and even musical themes in support of a political process to which he gave not only his best chords but also his artistic prestige. Shortly after, something broke forever in that relationship and this November 22, when the artist died at the age of 79 in Madrid, he had long since become an open critic of the Havana regime.
The death of Milanés closes a cultural stage on the island, although troubadours of his generation are still active, in the style of Silvio Rodríguez. He puts an end to an era because, unlike the latter, the author of hymns like Yolanda and Yo no te pido [I don’t ask you] had not only captivated his public musically but had also managed to gain a foothold in the hearts of the audience. His reputation as a good man, without hatred and in solidarity with young talents, earned him much appreciation on and off the Island. Added to this was his honesty, a personal quality that made him publicly acknowledge his distance from the ideological model that he had once helped to praise with his songs.
In July 2021, when thousands of Cubans took to the streets asking for a change in the system and a democratic opening, Milanés was emphatic in his support for the citizens and in his repudiation of the ruling party. “It is irresponsible and absurd to blame and repress a people thathave sacrificed and given everything for decades to sustain a regime that, in the end, imprisons them,” he lamented on his Facebook account. The artist took the opportunity to recall that he had been denouncing “the injustices and errors in the politics and government” of Cuba for a long time. Those words have been repeated and remembered in the last hours, after learning of his death, as a worthy epitaph to the composer of El breve espacio en que no estás [In the brief space where you are not].
Cuban officialdom has been cautious up to now in its condolences. A few brief farewell messages have come from the accounts of cultural institutions and some party leaders, but the brief and distant tone of these obituaries is noticeable. Milanés is not a comfortable dead man for a regime accustomed to extolling only those who applaud it with enthusiasm. The troubadour had become a difficult being for them, something that became clear during his last concert in Havana in June of this year. On that occasion, the authorities wanted to confine the artist in a small room which they were going to fill with acolytes from the Plaza of the Revolution, but the indignation of his followers forced them to change the script and move the presentation to the larger Ciudad Deportiva. And yes, indeed, the place was packed with political police to prevent the public from chanting “Freedom!” or other protest slogans.
During that show, many felt that they were probably attending, for the last time, that Milanés would sing in their country. With the greatness that characterized him, he did not want to get sentimental or emphasize a possible farewell, but his age and his fragile health levitated over the thousands of attendees.
Social networks have been filled with messages of respect and affection for everything that he gave to people throughout his life. Along with an impressive musical legacy, his main testament is summed up in having been consistent, a consistency that frightens official propaganda but that his audience recognizes. Thank you for the songs and for the sincerity, dear Pablo.
Editor’s Note: This text was originally published by Deutsche Welle‘s Latin America page.
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