At the Beginning,
There Wasn't a Nueva Trova
by Silvio Rodriguez
I started to
compose songs that were later characterized as being part of the Nueva Trova, or "new song." People asked me
what I was and my inclination was to call myself a Trovador
(troubadour). "What are you?" "Iím a troubadour." I donít
know if this was intuitive. At the time I was unclear about the history of the Trova,
and the significance of what we were doing. I was in the Army; I had another
job- I was a draftsman of comic strips- and my plans were to return to my old
job once I left the Army.
I started off
as a young man who liked music, took up the guitar and started to play. Like
other young people, I used to dislike the traditional Cuban music played on the
radio. However, I liked the traditional songs of the Trova I heard my
At the time,
people used to think troubadours were old men who sang out of tune with raucous
voices. There was no intention of spreading or recovering our musical history.
So, there I was
in the barracks, trying to compose my first song with the help of some friends
who knew a little music. My first audience was my comrades-in-arms, my friends.
I started to sing with another man in musical events organized for our unit.
Since the first
time I picked up a guitar, I had the intention of saying things my own way. I
always felt I had something to say. I was sure of that. Now, after many years
of professional work, having studied music and with the necessary tools to
analyze my musical beginnings, I look back to my first songs and realize that
my songs had a different intention compared to what was heard at the time. Even
in love songs, I always made a different preposition. I was just starting to
read the Romantic classics- Lord Byron, Bťcquer, Hoffman- all of them. Later on, I was attracted to Poeís work. That interest lasted and even today I am a
follower of some of his teachings.
From í64 to
í65, when I began composing rhythmically, to 1967, when I left the Army, I was
very prolific. I mostly wrote love songs, not chronicles of the times. However,
I wrote my first political songs then as well. The very first one, called
"ŅPor quť?" was
against racial discrimination in the U. S. and the second one, called "La leyenda del
Aguila" was against the Vietnam war. Later on, I wrote
others about the Vietnam war.
being demobilized, I met Mario Romeu by chance. Romeu
directed an ICR (Cuban Institute of Broadcasting) orchestra. He became very
enthusiastic about my songs, made the musical arrangements for three of them
and invited me to be on "Mķsica y Estrellas," the most popular TV program. I was
terrified by TV cameras, just like today. To me, singing in public and boarding
a plane are the same thing- both produce an
Around 1969, I
heard Bob Dylan for the first time. At the time the
Blockade of Cuba, imposed by the U.S., was very harsh and effective. As the
years went by and people realized that the Revolution was here to stay, many governments
re-established diplomatic relations or trade with Cuba. When the U.S. declared the Blockade in
the 60ís, only the Soviet Union, the socialist countries, and a hand-full of
friends, like Mexico, dared to maintain relations with us. So I didnít have the
opportunity to hear Dylan until the end of 1968 or 1969. Then he
was going through an obscure period, which made it difficult for me to
understand his songs.
I would say
that The Beatles left more of a lasting impression of me. The Beatles expanded all the traditional parameters of
"popular" music. They made "culture" music synonymous with
"popular" music. Iíve always been an impassioned listener of
so-called "cultured" music; the music of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Brahms, StravinskyÖ I began to see how The Beatles were doing away with
the formal aesthetic norms. And I identified with that attitude because I was
inclined to experiment with songs. For instance, Iíve written plays within
songs and made speeches interrupted only by a chorus midway.
When I started
to sing, someone from TV told me, "If you didnít sing those strange songs,
youíd become a star overnight." Many people described me as "a poet
who sings." I donít think of myself as a poet, but as an author of songs. Iíve
tried to write poems, but have never succeeded. Iíve experimented to see how
much you can get out of a man with a guitar. A song in a
hybrid which produces a mulatto product- music and poetry. That is, a
song is a mestizo product, just like cinema, because
itís a mixture of more than one artistic form.
The Nueva Trova became conscious of its importance to
young people at a certain moment. Pablo Milanťs, Noel Nicola, and I worked together in
many events. We began talking a lot about the role of singing in a society like
ours. What role should music play? Commercialism had relegated singing to being
a commodified, pseudo art. But singing had or could
have artistic qualities and could be seen and treated as great art forms like
painting, poetry, and symphony. This was the spirit of our work, committed as
we were to the revolutionary process. We felt there was no way to evade the
lights that had been turned on in our heads.
people, including leaders, who didnít believe in us because before us, singing
had never been used to criticize or question. We didnít ask anyoneís permission
to do so and there were people who misinterpreted our intentions and even tried
to silence us. On the other side, there were people who understood our songs
and tried to help widen our audience.
artistsí outdated habits, their way of dressing and performing. We objected to
that mythical being who appears and disappears like
magic on the television screen amidst colorful lights
and sounds. We wanted to clarify that we were human beings, perfectly earthly,
that we could compose socially committed songs and that we had to because we
all shared the same problems, the same struggle, and the same ideology. That
was our objective. It wasnít only a new way of creating, but a new way of
I feel that art
should entertain as well as educate. It fails when it doesnít entertain. An
audience should feel comfortable with an artist. One can also be overcome with
awe by the work of art. That too is a way of learning and being entertained. In
that sense, Iím a follower of Brecht.
Even nightclubs can be important. I am not against
them. One can have a good time at a nightclub with friends. But nightclubs need
constructive content and artistic quality. There will always be music to dance
to and music to listen to. When the lyrics of dance music become
so good that they deserve to be heard also, we will have reached the ideal. Or
looking it another way, we troubadours could aspire to compose dance music. I
think that todayís dance music has been influenced by Nueva Trova. When we began, people didnít like the traditional
Cuban music inherited from our parents and grandparents. The Nueva Trova helped renew our traditions.
The Nueva Trova has influenced young composers of dance
music. Theyíve recognized that it has also introduced new options and a new
perspective. Juan Formell of Los Van Van
understood this. Formellís compositions also help
young people appreciate the Orquesta Aragůnís music and other orchestras, which were
not as modern as his.
We all knew
that the term Nueva Trova would eventually become too narrow. The Nueva Trova and its troubadours are not so new any
more. We knew that this would do away with the term. But we needed a term when
we began to organize. Every time you classify and label, a tomb is dug. Nonetheless,
the Nueva Trova brought new truths to light and contributed to the
development of the Cuban Trova song.
I donít care if
the term Nueva Trova stops being used. I stopped being new a
long time ago, but I will always be a troubadour. I will continue practicing
the Trova, which has always existed as a musical tradition of our
people. Thatís whatís important.
Excerpts from an interview by Rina Benemayor, Havana, Cuba, March 1980.
Taken from http://www.district94.dupage.k12.il.us/english/collin/SRFin.htm