Song Of The Day 4/9/2016: Silvio Rodriguez – “La Maza”

Cuba: We Cool? – The last stop in this makeshift but admirably informational trip through Cuba is the nueva trova movement that began in the late '60s, after it was pretty plain that Fidel Castro was going to be setting up shop for awhile. Nueva trova in a sense resurrected the very old trovadoresca ("troubadour") approach of the 19th century Cuban folksinger. As the name implies trovadoresca musicians at least imagined themselves wandering from village to village with their guitars, concisely singing about contemporary issues and local concerns they may have come across. In giving way to the 20th century these gentlemen slipped by the wayside as the more emotive, passionate fires of the guaguancó, mambo and danzón forms spiked everybody's drink until the Communists took the keys away.

Nueva trova emerged as Bob Dylan's influence began to cross borders. Musicians resisted writing about female objects of desire and were compelled to write about the effects of the great societal change that had occurred in Cuba and the new, civic-driven introspection the revolution inspired. Writer Olavo Alén Rodríguez explained:
The lyrics in the songs of the Nueva Trova continued relating the most important events experienced by those that had crossed into the new Cuba. Subsequently, they became increasingly more epic in nature and were filled with praises to the country and to everything that had historically occurred... But among its main contributions in this sense, was that of offering the idyllic image of a new Cuban man, that finally moved away from all of the supposed negative aspects with which he had lived with himself to that moment. This image rose above the jealousy and lust of beautiful women, the envy of lost love, the pleasure of alcoholic beverages, and, of course, the fear and insecurity in all its possible forms. The figure that inspired this new image, by his example, was that of the legendary Commander Ernesto “Ché” Guevara.
Ché. It always leads back to Ché, doesn't it? Silvio Rodriguez was one of Neuva trova's most important figureheads, and he remains committed to the letter of the form even as the juicy details of the salsa and mambo regained favor in the late '80s. "La Maza" ("The Hammer," or "The Mallet") has a skittish and effective combination of piano, guitar and jerky percussion, and a pretty powerful restatement of purpose: "What would the hammer be without the stone/A front-man for the double-dealer of the applause/A server of the old in a new cup/One who would make eternal the declining gods' exaltation/Cooked up with rags and sequins." Take that, Bacardi.

With that, we leave Cuba, but it's nice to know we can go back anytime unless somebody with diplomatic immunity screws it up. 

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