Interview with Carlos Varela, Cuban “Troubadour”

Cristian Vitale interviews Cuban singer Carlos Varela, one of the most popular exponents of the Novísima Trova, who has already recorded nine albums, mostly praised for his refined urban poetry. In the interview with Vitale, Varela stresses that Silvio Rodríguez is like a father to him [personally and musically-speaking]; he cites Fito Páez as the singer who opened the door of Argentine rock to Cubans; and he compares Pablo Milanés’ voice to fine wine (“as time goes on, he sounds better and better”). Vitale includes the singer among the great leaders in Hispanic music.

Vitale writes, “He is [a leader] as a songwriter (nine albums from 1989 to present). He is a leader for being, out of all the intense old/new Cuban blood, one of the most popular exponents of the Novísima Trova; for his urban poetry; for his universal touch—they call him “the Cuban Dylan”—for having shared music with Jackson Browne, for instance, or with Tony Scott, the American director who chose his song ‘Una palabra’ [One Word] for his great film Man on Fire.”

“Una palabra” is just one of the songs that Varela will bring on his tour of Argentina (on May 18, 2012, at the Sha Theater (2255 Sarmiento Street in Buenos Aires), concentrating mainly on No es el fin [It is Not the End], his latest production, conceived in his home studio in Havana.

Here is a short excerpt from Vitale’s interview:

What if you were to draw a temporal bridge between Jalisco Park and your debut album, No es el fin?

“The difference resides in the years that it takes to find your voice. You also learn to look at your reality from a more universal standpoint of your surroundings, and less photographic, as my first songs were. I also think the sound is more mature and more personal. Similarities could perhaps be the theatrical obsession with observing. I’m still a storyteller, a preacher, a dreamer.”

Vitale also points out that Varela’s trajectory has also been mediated by the muses of his musical beginnings. Varela has toured several times with Paul [Milanés] and Silvio [Rodríguez]. He owes to Silvio (“he was a university for me,” he says) having been able to sing with Mercedes Sosa in Havana in 1986, as well as this advice: “’Try to get your songs to resemble your life, your neighborhood, your friends, your own history, and your generation,’ he said and that was the lesson I learned,” he recalls. [. . .]

And what’s the story behind “Una palabra”?

“I was at the home of actor Jorge Perugorría and I felt the connection: it was as if someone were dictating the song to me, so I locked myself in a room with a piano and I began finding the melody. The next day, I was in the studio recording some guitars for the album Nubes [Clouds] and suddenly the whole idea came to me, so I told the engineer: ‘Stop everything and record this.” And it came out in a single take, as you can hear on the CD or in the film. It was a very difficult time for me because my old band of eleven years had decided to stay and live in Madrid after the tour with [Joaquin] Sabina, so I returned alone to Cuba; the best therapy for me was to ensconce myself to compose [what would become] my best known song.”

Listen to “Una palabra”  here:

For full interview, see

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