Cuban Folk Singer Silvio Rodrígues Touring U.S.

Travel Blog  •  Jim Benning  •  06.08.10 | 5:02 PM ET

In 1999, two years before we created World Hum, Michael Yessis came back from a month-long trip to Spain and told me about a song he’d heard in a bar in Madrid. Two nights in a row, sometime well after midnight, the bartender played an anthemic folk song on the stereo called “Ojalá,” and as Mike recalled it, each time the song came on, the patrons erupted in singing, with dozens of locals joining in.

He wasn’t sure what the song was about, but he thought I’d like it, and sure enough, when I finally tracked down a copy of it, I did. I’ve been a big fan of its singer-songwriter, Silvio Rodríguez, ever since.

Finally, the Cuban folk singer, now 63, is touring the U.S. He has already played to a sold-out Carnegie Hall—this New York Times piece and this Christopher Baker blog post are well worth a read—and he’s scheduled to play Oakland, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Orlando.

Rodriguez is a controversial figure outside of Cuba. Many Cuban exiles despise him because he has, at times, defended the Revolution. I love him for his music, not his politics. Besides, as the New York Times put it, “Through the decades Mr. Rodríguez has become more poet than propagandist.” He sings about life.

How excited am I about this tour? I’m going to reschedule a flight and eat a hefty penalty fee so I can see him play.

Here’s a video of Rodriguez performing “Ojalá” in Madrid’s Plaza de Toros—you can hear the crowd singing along, line for line, and imagine the scene in that Madrid bar. I’ve since heard the song played by folk singers in cafes and bars from Mexico to Argentina. It’s wildly popular. Its meaning is the subject of great debate.

The version of the song below is available on the album “Mano a Mano”—an excellent live album that also features Spanish trovador Luis Eduardo Aute performing.

1 Comment for Cuban Folk Singer Silvio Rodrígues Touring U.S.

Mark Griffin 06.12.10 | 2:18 PM ET

A great piece to read! I’ve bought a plane ticket to Orlando for the sole purpose of hearing Silvio perform on June 23. I’m a Spanish professor and have been a fan since I discovered his music as an undergraduate. Politics aside, he’s the world’s greatest singer-songwriter (in my opinion); Dylan and Paul Simon are the best approximations we have here in the US to his talent. And he’s also a poet to be read alongside Neruda and Cesar Vallejo.

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