Cuba says goodbye to one of its greatest musicians

Pablo Milanes

Early morning hours last Tuesday, one of the most important singer-songwriters in the history of Cuba, the troubadour Pablo Milanes, who delighted millions of people around the world with his tuned guitar and unmistakable voice, passed away in Madrid. Milanes is, together with Silvio Rodriguez and Noel Nicola, one of the pivotal founders of the Cuban Nueva Trova movement, which had an enormous range and impact throughout Latin America and in some European countries.

Pablo’s health condition has been delicate lately, and some months ago, he started treatment in a clinic in Madrid. At 79 years, the Cuban singer gave his audiences the best of his talent until the end. It was just 5 months ago that he performed a mega concert in Havana. Most of us were not aware of it then, but today we can say with certainty that it was his farewell to his people. Thousands of Cubans attended the Ciudad Deportiva stadium to listen again to their idol, whose music leaves an inerasable footprint for several generations.

His artistic life was intense, like few others around. He produced over 40 solo albums and another 15 as part of the “Grupo de Experimentación Sonora del ICAIC” (Cuban band from the ’70s), as well as dozens of collaborations with artists such as Jose Maria Vitier, Silvio Rodriguez, Frank Delgado, Ana Belen, Chico Buarque, Fito Paez, Joaquin Sabina, Joan Manuel Serrat, Mercedes Sosa, Jose Jose, and many others. This majestic musical creation earned him Cuba’s National Music Award in 2005, as well as many other awards he received in international festivals and he won multiple Latin Grammy Awards including one for Musical Excellence in 2015 to honor a lifetime of dedication to his art.

Young Pablo with Fidel Castro

Pablo’s musical work is not only an aesthetic reference but also a historical reference for Cubans, since it is part of the history of the Cuban Revolution. His talent and his love for Cuba turned him into an inseparable part of the soundtrack of this historical process, and it is true. Those who did not live in the last century can attest to this, as there is not a single political activity or historical festivity in Cuba where Pablo’s unforgettable lyrics are missing.

The grief extends throughout Latin America. Chile and Argentina also mourn Pablo, who fought for them with his songs to such an extent that Pablo’s songs became anthems during the dictatorships that both countries suffered. Listening to Pablo was not only fashionable at the time, but it also meant they were a revolutionary musical expression.

A lot of things have been said about Pablo’s controversial relationship with the Cuban government during his last years. However, he never ceased to be a “standard bearer of the Revolution,” in his own words. Pablo’s work and talent are much more than these disagreements, and we keep it all because all his intentions were meant for his beloved Cuba.

No one can or could argue again that if there was something more influential than his political songs, it was his love songs. Pablo was in love with life, and along with the most poignant

Haydee Milanes with Pablo Milanes

lyrics of reflection are his poems of love and broken hearts, accompanied only by the solitude of his guitar and voice.

Perhaps the best way to express what Pablo really felt was the words that he used to end his memorable concert in Havana when he said goodbye in a very particular way:

“Love me as I am, take me without fear

touch me with love, that I’m going to lose my coolness.

Kiss me without resentment, treat me with sweetness

please look at me, because I want to reach your soul”