Cuban Folk Legend Silvio Rodríguez Visits U.S. for First Time in 30 Years

Mari Hayman, writing for the Latin American Post Dispatch, reports on Silvio Rodríguez’s news conference in New York.

After a wait of over thirty years, Cuban folk legend Silvio Rodríguez will make his first public appearance in the U.S. this Friday, when he plays a sold-out show at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. Rodríguez’s appeal spans decades and continents, from those who remember the singer’s early protest songs of the 1960s to a younger generation raised on his poetic lyrics.

In a press conference Tuesday morning at lower Manhattan’s Sound’s of Brazil club, Rodriguez gave a matter-of-fact explanation for his three decades-long absence from the United States: “They wouldn’t grant me a visa,” he said, alluding to troubles he had earlier this year when he was invited to the U.S. for a tribute to folk musician Pete Seeger and was unable to obtain a visa in time.

But now that the Cuban musician has secured the necessary papers, he will play Carnegie Hall’s June 4 show and another last-minute performance on June 10, which will also be at Carnegie Hall.

Rodríguez said that he was pleased to be playing in the United States again.

“Even though we’ve been at each other’s throats for fifty years, we’re neighbors,” he said.  “Geographically, we’re condemned to it. So we have to get along sooner rather than later.”

Following on the heels of compatriots Pablo Milanés, Omara Portuondo, Septeto Nacional and Carlos Varela, Rodríguez is the latest addition to a growing list of Cuban performers allowed to enter the U.S. since October 2009, when the Obama administration began approving cultural exchange visas for Cuban musicians.

Previously, no visas had been issued since early 2004, when economic sanctions and restrictions on travel and remittances between the two countries intensified under President Bush.

Rodriguez’s pioneering role in Cuba’s “Nueva Trova” influenced a generation of Cuban revolutionaries and young leftists in Latin America. On Tuesday, Rodríguez stated that he continues to support the Cuban Revolution, but he also quipped that “we already had the revolution, now it’s time for evolution!” and emphasized the need to seek “political and social evolution, even though we have many social advantages that other countries don’t have.”

“I want there to be even more of that,” Rodríguez added.

Still, Rodríguez was reluctant to criticize specific aspects of the Castro regime before reporters Tuesday.

“There are a lot of things in Cuba that have aged and that need to be revitalized, but I prefer to criticize Cuban reality when I’m at home,” he said. “I’m from the countryside, and I was taught not to go to a neighbor’s house to complain about my own family.”

Rodríguez’s current tour may portend an improvement in U.S.-Cuban relations, but while the singer himself acknowledged progress, he recognized that there is still a long way to go. “I feel that we’ve returned to where we were before Bush, but we haven’t advanced further,” Rodríguez told reporters.  “It’s a shame, because I sincerely believe that this situation between Cuba and the United States should end. It’s been too long, there has been too much agony, too many absences, too much pain. It’s an era that needs to come to an end.”

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