On 'Para La Espera,' Silvio Rodríguez Combines The Personal And Political One of Cuba's best-known singers and songwriters, Rodríguez says this pandemic-era album — whose title translates to "For the Wait" — is all about dealing with uncertainty.
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On 'Para La Espera,' Silvio Rodríguez Combines The Personal And Political

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On 'Para La Espera,' Silvio Rodríguez Combines The Personal And Political

On 'Para La Espera,' Silvio Rodríguez Combines The Personal And Political

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The poetry and politics of his lyrics have inspired generations across Latin America. His unwavering support for the Cuban Revolution has also drawn intense criticism from the Cuban exile community. Now Silvio Rodriguez has released an album that's both personal and political. It's called "Para La Espera" - for the wait. And Betto Arcos has this profile.

BETTO ARCOS, BYLINE: Silvio Rodriguez was 12 when the Cuban Revolution overthrew the country's dictatorship. Social activism has always been part of his songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SILVIO RODRIGUEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

ARCOS: For the past 10 years, Rodriguez has been performing free concerts in some of the poorest neighborhoods of Cuba - what he calls his Endless Tour.

RODRIGUEZ: (Through interpreter) That spirit of sharing culture comes from my generation of troubadours. We used to go sing everywhere - factories, schools, barrios and prisons. The Endless Tour started when a policeman knocked on my door, inviting me to the barrio he cared for called The Necktie. We continued doing it, and we've done 108 concerts.

ARCOS: His generation came together in 1967 to form a movement called La Nueva Trova Cubana - the New Cuban Troubadours.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OJALA")

RODRIGUEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

ARCOS: Like this song, their lyrics dealt with all of the aspects of being in a relationship - love and pain, joy and sadness. The song "La Maza" is a declaration of principles for being an artist.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA MAZA")

RODRIGUEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

ARCOS: Fifty-year-old Kelvis Ochoa is part of the generation that came after Silvio Rodriguez. He says the older singer is a hard act to follow.

KELVIS OCHOA: (Through interpreter) He is one of the great Latin American poets. He's written so many songs. Many of them are so good. It's overwhelming. It's way beyond our reach.

DAVID BYRNE: Silvio's lyrics are sometimes very impressionistic, sometimes abstract and, of course - no surprise - sometimes political.

ARCOS: Singer and composer David Byrne and his partner licensed Cuban music in the early 1990s and released it on their label Luaka Bop, including a collection of 12 songs Byrne selected from Rodriguez's albums.

BYRNE: What really shocked me was that Silvio, despite being as popular as he is in Latin America, had never had a greatest hits record. Maybe he thought this was a kind of crass thing and kind of commercial, but he agreed to do it with us. And I think he might have been thinking - and rightly - that we were going to introduce him to an audience that otherwise may not have heard his music.

ARCOS: The album became their biggest seller.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAUSAS Y AZARES")

RODRIGUEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

ARCOS: Over the last 50 years, Rodriguez has recorded 24 albums. Before the pandemic, he was working on a new one with a large group of musicians, but he had to shut down the production. He decided to bring back the troubadour after seeing what others were doing online.

RODRIGUEZ: (Through interpreter) I started seeing messages, songs, even concerts on the Internet. So I thought about taking some of the songs I already composed, which were not in the other record I was working on, and I began to organize the material and offer it to people as a way to help them cope during the pandemic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DANZON PARA LA ESPERA")

RODRIGUEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

ARCOS: Rodriguez says the title of his new album, "Para La Espera" - for the wait - alludes to the uncertainty of the pandemic and to the nearly two-decade wait for the release of the Cuban Five, intelligence officers arrested in the U.S. who became national heroes. Rodriguez has always been an outspoken defender of the Cuban Revolution and a critic of the U.S. embargo. But he says he tries to look to the future.

RODRIGUEZ: (Through interpreter) I am a man of hope. I am a man who believes in the future, above all because I'm from this country and because we have these people. We're not perfect, but we are combative and hopeful. I'm part of all of this.

ARCOS: And his music has been part of the soundtrack of life in Cuba and throughout Latin America for more than 50 years.

For NPR News, I'm Betto Arcos.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VIENE LA COSA")

RODRIGUEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

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