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By Peter Culshaw.
While a mainstream audience in this country has discovered the joys of Cuban music in the past decade, throughout Latin America Silvio Rodríguez is a much more potent and famous name than the Buena Vista Social Club and its offshoots. A totemic figure akin to Bob Dylan, for this almost entirely Latin audience Rodríguez is a heroic figure of the intellectual Left, albeit a self-effacing one.

It was Rodríguez, with fellow nueva trova ("new song'') artist Pablo Milanés, who played the first big concert in Argentina to mark the end of the dictatorship, and in Chile when Pinochet fell he gave a concert in memory of his friend, the murdered singer Victor Jara.

At his first UK concert for 20 years, the mere mention of his name was enough to generate a standing ovation before he had even shuffled on stage with a line-up of guitar, bass, flute and percussion.

The concert was to raise money for the Music Fund for Cuba, originally established in memory of the Cubaphile singer Kirsty MacColl, specifically for the restoration of the Miramar Community Theatre in Havana. The support slot consisted of good-time Latin party act Ska Cubano, with members of Madness guesting for a couple of numbers in a shambolic, barely-rehearsed collaboration.

Rodríguez, though, was consummately professional, and while the music of his much-loved songs (every single first line was greeted with a huge cheer) is inventive and as much influenced by the Beatles as by traditional Cuban music, it's his lyrics that mark him out as a major artist, one reason for his lack of renown outside Spanish-speaking countries.

His high but grainy voice carries a sense of yearning, a questing ambiguity that set him at odds with the Cuban establishment's wish for certainties in the '60s (although, like many a former rebel, he is now an establishment figure in Cuba and a member of the National Assembly). His densely imagistic songs such as Canto Arena, where he sings of "nailing up signs, deciphering crossroads'' and of "awakening in the eye of a hurricane, my soul riddled with holes'' are rarely crudely propagandistic. Even on a song such as Playa Girón ("The Bay of Pigs''), the song is about the name of a boat and about the process of writing a song as much as the failed American invasion.

Despite his lack of showbiz presentation, he was not averse to performing perhaps his greatest hits to an ecstatic crowd as his final number and encores - notably Ojala, which means "I Hope So'', a song that embodies his wryly optimistic humanitarianism.

Source: The Daily Telegraph

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