Silvio Rodríguez on the early years of the Nueva Trova and Haydée Santamaría
Jose G. Perez
jg_perez at bellsouth.net
Mon Aug 11 13:10:49 MDT 2003
Below is an excerpt from an interview with Cuban singer-songwriter
Silvio Rodríguez, one of the main exponents of the "Movimiento de la
Nueva Trova" (and which I've translated as "New Song Movement" although
that doesn't really capture it) that arose in Cuba after the victory of
the revolution, in the 1960's. This movement was in many ways part of an
international wave or political/folk singer-songwriters like Phil Ochs,
Victor Jara and Roy Brown. But its emergence is a country that had just
undergone a profound social revolution also made it unique.
One way in which it was not unique, however, is that it met with
official disapproval from the music establishment. In those days, as I
understand it, much of the Cuban ideological and cultural front was
under comrades who had gotten their training in the People's Socialist
Party, the pre-revolution traditional Communist Party, and hadn't yet
thought through some negative aspects of that experience.
I've written about this in the past on Marxmail as part of polemics
around Cuba, explaining how it related to other issues at the same time.
That was based on what I had heard, what I'd been told, what I'd read
about other aspects of Cuban policies of those days (especially in
Fidel's speeches from 1970 on.) This wasn't something that was some deep
dark secret -- I first heard about it within a few years of the dispute
being over, at the end of the 1970s, when I started relating to Cuba
more. But I'd actually never seen anything published in Cuba about those
The interview was done by Ivette Carnota Costa on March 21 -- the spring
equinox -- but she does not say of what year, specifying in an
introduction only that it was a few years before 1996. It remained
unpublished until now, when it appeared in the Cuban literary/cultural
Internet review La Jiribilla.
The form of the interview was to ask about certain people, songs and
themes. The part I've translated is about Haydée Santamaría, one of the
founders of the July 26 Movement and after the revolution of the
literary and cultural center Casa de las Americas.
In the 1960s when artists like Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés, Sara
González and others were just starting out, they could not get recorded,
played on the radio or have concerts in most venues. Casa de las
Americas became their refuge. And Alfredo Guevara, one of Fidel's close
friends from the University of Havana, who was head of the ICAIC, the
film institute, did an end run around the EGREM, the official Cuban
label, and brought out a collection of their work as the "ICAIC Group
for Sound Experimentation," making them seem more like a techno-geek
special effects team than representatives of a new movement in popular
music. I don't believe it was an accident that it was two figures
closely associated with Fidel that both wanted to and were able to
shelter and nurture the nascent movement.
* * *
We know the importance in history of Haydée Santamaría, one of the
heroes of Moncada, one of the first women to join the revolutionary
struggle, who went to Moncada together with Melba Hernández, who was
very invovled in the creation of the Movement, she was the sister of the
second man of the Movement, Abel Santamaría, and therefore very close to
Haydée was a being that seemed to be touched by grace, that seemed to
live in a state of grace. She was an immensely human being. She always
knew how to be like a friend, like a sister, sometimes like a mother,
and most of all she was never prejudiced against the youth, she was able
to be sufficiently understanding and patient so as to interpret
correctly certain youthful outbursts, and not blow things up and
transform them into negative characterizations, as happened with other
people who like her witnessed the emergence of the New Song Movement.
A little while ago I saw a television program where some musicians were
asking, why wasnt a certain kind of music being supported like the New
Song Movement had been supported. It is not the first time I hear this
sort of statement, and there is something that people are ignorant of or
want to pass over because it is easier. And that is that the New Song
Movement had practically no support.
It was supported by two or three personalities, Haydée Santamaría,
Alfredo Guevara, Quintín Pino, Mayda Santamaría. In general, the
tendency was to repress the New Song.
So the support of some personalities was needed, because otherwise,
perhaps they would not have succeeded in destroying it, but they would
have damaged the people who were making the New Song. It was all based
on that we never had an apologetic approach to our everyday lives, but
rather a self-critical one, and there were people who did not understand
this, who did not consider it to be correct.
It started to become a tendency that in turn became a repressive way of
treating us, in a whole series of rumors that were set in motion with
the intention of defaming us. Many slanders we said and they were
allowed to spread because some people didnt like us.
So it was necessary for some people to support the New Song because
otherwise it may not have existed. Its not a matter that it had
support, but from a very few individuals, and among them basically
Haydée Santamaría, in the middle of a bombardment that perhaps no other
tendency in music has suffered, not even rock, because rock, for
example, was allowed, there were TV programs and festivals, but we were
denied access to those places, we were thrown out and to a degree we
were even accused of certain things.
If it hadnt been for the support of Haydée and those others, who were
very few but very brave, who knows where we would have wound up, because
they tried to stigmatize us and create a myth around us. That is why I
think for us, the people of that generation, Haydée was so important.
Of course, that wasnt the only thing she did. Haydée was always very
much in solidarity with the artists, not just of Cuba but of all Latin
America. The creation of Casa de las Américas was a way of guaranteeing
that revolutionary artists who were persecuted and condemned in their
own countries by official repression would always have a podium to speak
from, and that place was and is Casa de las Américas.
That is why she created the annual contest where writers participate,
she organized exhibitions of plastic arts of all sorts, meetings of
scholars of all sorts of areas of study, gatherings of musicians, in
sum, meetings of Latin American culture, which is a culture that suffers
discrimination, and all that was Haydée Santamarías doing.
Thanks to Haydée many of us were able to meet people like Roque Dalton,
something which enriched us and taught us, which made us grow in our
Latin American identity, and in our convictions, and I have said it
other times, we owe her, her memory, her example, a debt that cannot be
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