In his life Pablo Milanés has given many concerts in Cuba, but probably none as exciting and heartfelt as the one he offered on Tuesday at the main sports center in Havana. Pablo hadn’t sung in his country for nearly three years, and he couldn’t take it anymore. He needed 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 strength of this connection became clear from the moment he appeared on stage, and also that it would be a magical night despite the political controversy that surrounded his presentation in Havana since his own announcement, and through no fault of his own.
Pablo Milanés chose Marginalfrom your disk origins (1994), to introduce the two-hour concert and the 25 songs that thrilled the thousands of people gathered at the Ciudad Deportiva Coliseum. It was quite a declaration of principles, loaded with a message and subtlety: “Everyone come to my garden / touch and remove the flowers as you like / Kiss the nearby lips with tenderness / Shed a tear for each one of us / how misunderstood he is…” . Poetry and commitment from the beginning, and the stands erupted in an ovation that did not stop throughout the evening, in which the troubadour covered the great successes of his career, from Beginning and end of a green morning, Ya weight, Yolanda, It has not been easy o The brief space in which you are notchanted by the crowd.
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 the cellist Caridad Varona -and in some songs playing the guitar himself-, Milanés put together a very heartfelt concert, nostalgic, 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 reflective The evils of silence (“Silence no longer understands / what is good and what is bad / it only says yes, signed / and obeying what they order), and later came other of his starkest compositions about what has happened in Cuba in recent decades, such as Exodus, which cries out in its opening verses: “Where are the friends 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.
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 very important to him when he presented them, nostalgia y the glory days (“The days of glory / they left with everything / what one day I was). The critical positions of Pablo Milanés are well known, but his was by no means a political or denunciatory concert, although in some official instances they feared that it could be so.
Pablo sang his immortal love songs, the usual ones, and among them he included his most committed lyrics, those that point out the stains and promote reflection, in a balance that flowed with the absolute complicity of a highly connected and dedicated audience, which had long time waiting for you.
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Since it was announced that, as part of his tour light days -which he is currently performing in Spain and which has also taken him to the United States-, the artist would perform in Havana on June 21, great expectations were generated. Milanés has lived in Spain for years and has health problems known to all, and It is 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 decided that only a few hundred locations 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 not a few nerves from the organizing institutions and notable security measures, Pablo Milanés went out on Tuesday to the stage of the Ciudad Deportiva and, as always, dazzled and moved with his unique voice and his songs. This presentation was very important to him, and also to the people, and it showed. The political was not in the foreground at all (or was it), what was breathed was poetry and the absolute connection of the public with one of his most beloved artists. From the first to the last verse, people sang with him, listened to him, enjoyed him and savored his lyrics as if he were drinking one last glass of good wine. Pablito was there, and he put all his heart into a concert that was much more than a concert and ended in collective catharsis when the encore came. “Love me as I am, take me without fear / touch me with love, I’m going to lose my cool / Kiss me without rancor, treat me sweetly / look at me please, I want to reach your soul,” he sang, and the stands collapsed. A great energy took over the room, and Pablo seemed happy to say goodbye.