Revolution 10: Evolution

Silvio Rodriguez - Carnegie Hall

Artistic diplomacy works. So does the freedom to transform a revolution.

KadmusArts’ Culture News feed featured a story this week of America welcoming back one of Cuba’s iconic singers, Silvio Rodríguez. In fact, we’ve been following the life of Rodríguez for the past couple of months.

KadmusArts’ guest blogger, Harald Himsel, has been writing about his project to capture the world of Silvio Rodríguez, Cuba’s “Bob Dylan”. Himsel’s three blog posts, In Search of Silvio Rodríguez, Coffee with Fidel, and Ay la Vida: A Hippie in Communism track the career, legacy, and impact of Rodríguez’s music and Nueva Trova movement.

Rodríguez’s American tour is clearly part of the diplomatic process of relations between Cuba and the United States. Bloomberg News reported the reaction of Christopher Sabatini, policy director at the Council of the Americas, “The fact that we’re willing to grant a visa to Silvio Rodríguez, an icon of the [Cuban] revolution, the bard of the revolution, demonstrates that the Cold War dynamic, the fear, the isolation, the retribution, we’re past that,” Sabatini said. Needless to say, that’s good news.

Even better news is Rodríguez’s political self-examination process. In one of his new songs, Rodríguez sings about “transcending the ‘r’ in revolution.” As he told the Associated Press, “I hope evolution takes us, as the angel in the song says, right up to the crossroads where we made the wrong decision and we rectify that.” That’s a new tune from the sound of experience-earned wisdom and with a note of hope.

Rodríguez is sixty-three years old and has lived through becoming the leading voice of a new generation, a political insider as a member of parliament, and world traveler as an “official” Cuban artist. Of course, no one can deny that there were, and are, other artists who never did and do not have the chance to sing for a new generation, to participate in the government, or to travel outside of Cuba.

One of Rodríguez’s songs was dedicated to five Cubans convicted of spying and imprisoned in America. There was no such dedication to any political prisoners being held in Cuba.

Still, this is a start: America allows a genuine dissident voice to come to perform and promote Cuba; Cuba allows Rodríguez to begin to stretch the envelope of new political thinking; and, everyone benefits from openly engaging an artist, his ideas, and his music.

In the sixties, when Silvio Rodríguez was finding his voice, it was forbidden in Cuba to listen to the Beatles, and for the past forty-seven years, America has enforced a travel ban and trade embargo with Cuba. This year, the American congress may have the opportunity to vote for the end of the travel ban and Cuba has survived even with a Beatles soundtrack.

Genuine leadership and legitimate government will always support the freedom of travel and the freedom of expression. It may be naive, but it’s true: all citizens have the opportunity to live a better life when ever and where ever artists are free to think, create, and perform.

As Rodríguez said himself at his open American press conference, “We have to get along well, sooner or later.”

Now, that’s something to sing about.

- Bill Reichblum

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