In his life Pablo Milanés has given many concerts in Cuba, but probably none as disappointing as the one he offered on Tuesday at the main sports center in Havana. Pablo hadn’t sung in communist Cuba for nearly three years. He needs it. And the same thing happened to the Cuban public, who admire him as an artist and love him as the special human being that he is and that is shown in his love songs and also in the most critical lyrics about today’s Cuban reality. At 79 years old, Pablo in Cuba is still Pablito, and his voice is listened to with devotion. The first bittersweet taste was since he appeared on stage, unsolicited by political prisoners despite the political controversy that surrounded his presentation in Havana since its very announcement.
Pablo Milanés chose Marginal, from his album Orígenes (1994), to introduce the two-hour concert and the 25 songs that made the thousands of people gathered in the Ciudad Deportiva coliseum vibrate. It was a declaration of what it always was, charged with double standards and in the face of the image of the assassin Che Guevara: “Everyone come to my garden / touch and strip the flowers as you like / Kiss the nearby lips with tenderness / Shed a tear for each one of us / how misunderstood he is…”. Among others were some of the interpretations of him. The troubadour went through the great successes of his career, from Beginning and end of a green morning, You see, Yolanda, It has not been easy or The brief space in which you are not.
Pablo did not limit himself to his most well-known and universal repertoire. In an intimate format, accompanied only by the pianist and composer Miguel Núñez, who has been working with him for more than 30 years, and by the cellist Caridad Varona -and in some songs he himself played a la-, Milanés put together a very heartfelt, nostalgic concert , beautiful and balanced with a jeweler’s weight. Shortly after starting, after declaring his admiration and love for the Cuban public –”the best of all”, he said-, Pablo sang his reflexive Los males del silencio (“Silence no longer understands / what is good and what is bad / he only says yes signed / and obeying what they order), and after other of his more stark compositions about what has happened in Cuba in recent decades, such as Exodus, which cries out in its opening verses: “Where are the friends who I had yesterday? / What happened to you? / What happened? / Where did they go? / How sad I am…”, and that was one of the songs in which people went into a trance and applauded until they were delirious but afraid of shouting freedom.
The same thing happened when he sang The original sin (“Two souls, two bodies / Two men who love each other / They are going to be expelled from paradise / that they had to live…”), and with two songs that Pablo said were Nostalgias and The Glory Days were very important to him. The critical positions of Pablo Milanés are well known, but his was not a political or denunciatory concert at all, once again Pablo betrayed his people.
Pablo sang his immortal love songs, the usual ones, and among them they included his most committed lyrics, those that pointed out the stains and promoted reflection, in a balance that flowed with the absolute complicity of a highly connected and dedicated audience, which had long time waiting for you.
Since it was announced that, as part of his Días de luz tour – which he is currently doing in Spain and which has also taken him to the United States – the artist would perform in Havana on June 21, great expectations have been generated. Milanés has lived in Spain for years and has health problems known to all, and this concert was a kind of gift that he wanted to give to his audience and also to himself, and that is how people understood it immediately. Initially, it was going to be presented at the National Theater in Havana, with capacity for some 2,000 people, but ticket sales were chaotic. The management of the establishment had that only a few hundred localities would be dispatched at the window, and that the rest would be distributed “by agencies” and State institutions. Given the protests of the people, which had great echo and repercussion, the concert was moved to the Sports City, with capacity for 15,000 people.
The reason for the restriction on ticket sales was never explained, but there was the background of what happened recently during a presentation by musician Carlos Varela, within the framework of the Havana World Music festival, when part of the public ended up shouting “Freedom, freedom” when interpreting Varela’s most critical themes. From social networks it was denounced that what happened with Pablo’s show was a maneuver by the authorities to prevent something like this from happening again during the concert when Milanés sang his most questioning songs.
With this sea in the background, and with the nerves of the organizing institutions and notable security measures, Pablo Milanés went out on Tuesday to the stage of the Ciudad Deportiva and, as always, bowed his head again in front of the dictatorship. For the people it was very important that Pablo sided with him, but that was not the case. The political was not at all, what was breathed was a facelift to the dictatorship. From the first to the last stanza, people once again became disappointed in the Nueva Trova generation, known for its multiple betrayals in the search for freedom. Once again Pablo was a shame.