By Salvador Leon Navarro
Madrid, Nov 23 (EFE).- The funeral chapel for Cuban singer Pablo Milanes was deluged with visitors at the Casa de America in Madrid, Spain, where he died, including Spanish Culture Minister Miquel Iceta, artists Ana Belen and Jorge Drexler, and a number of citizens who admired his music and bid him farewell by singing some of his popular songs.
“Para vivir” and “Yolanda” were among the numbers sung by about 100 people – some of them displaying a Cuban flag – with great emotion, including tears, at the closing of the funeral chapel.
“I’m a political exile and I’m 46 years old. My parents listened to Pablo and to Silvio (Rodriguez), and we love them. I also respect Pablo for his stance of criticism, for supporting renewal. Besides being a great musician, he’s been a guy who’s been faithful to his feelings, I respect him as a human being, as a Cuban and as a singer,” one of the attendees, who did not want to provide her name, told EFE at the Casa de America.
During the five hours that the funeral chapel for the 79-year-old Cuban artist was open in the Spanish capital, where he had traveled recently to be treated for blood cancer, a number of well-known faces arrived to pay their respects.
“I’m here to pay my respects to a great maestro of singing in Spanish. The best singer I personally knew. A person who, among other things, thanks to which I was able to stay here to live in Spain,” Uruguayan singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler, who said the Cuban musician – affectionately known as Pablito – gave him the chance to move to Spain in 1995.
“The first song they recorded for me here was one of Pablo and Victor Manuel’s called ‘Dos colores, blanco y negro.’ It was a crucial moment in my life,” Drexler added.
He also recalled the day he met Milanes for the first time, at the home of Joaquin Sabina, saying “You don’t know what it is to hear Pablo sing in a room. It’s a marvelous experience.”
He said it “is a very sad day” for those who devote themselves to singing and writing songs in Spanish since Milanes’s voice was “a sound that sticks with you forever.”
Iceta also expressed his condolences and emphasized that Milanes was “a person who made a mark on Cuban music and culture for many years (and had) a great relationship with the countries of Latin America and with Spain.”
“We’ve lost a very important element … We’ve gotten emotional with his songs of protest and also with his more romantic songs. He’s a man who worked on the Cuban sound and transmitted it to the world,” the minister said.
Argentine singer Fito Paez, Spain’s Massiel and Ana Belen and fellow Cuban and balladeer in the “nueva trova” (new music) movement Silvio Rodriguez also came to the Casa de America to bid farewell to Milanes, whose family thanked the public for their support and expressed their intention to bury their loved one in Spain.
The nueva trova movement was designed to update traditional Cuban folk music for the modern, post-revolutionary society.
After initially being harassed by the Fidel Castro government, Milanes supported the Cuban regime, a stance that earned him criticism, particularly from Cuban exiles, but as he aged he became more critical of the Cuban revolution.
“We’ve lost one of the greatest artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. The most important thing is that he’s left us an impressive legacy of quality and beauty into which we all should go to breathe a little in these very fateful times,” said Fito Paez, speaking for the family, along with Milanes’s brother-in-law, Spanish actor Federico Perez Rey.
When asked about the funeral arrangements by reporters, Perez Rey said that the Cuban singer-songwriter “will be buried here, in a strictly intimate (ceremony) and we’ll just have to see what happens after that,” although he was unwilling to provide information about the site of the burial or about whether Milanes preferred to be laid to rest in Spain or in Cuba.
Record producer and nueva trova balladeer Dagoberto Gonzalez said that Milanes was preparing an album featuring his work with other artists such as Spain’s Alejandro Sanz, a work that would have been the third installment of the trilogy including the albums “Querido Pablo” (1985) and “Pablo Querido” (2002).
Also attending the wake were artists like Massiel, who tearfully recalled Milanes as “a little bit of love and sensitivity,” actresses Pastora Vega and Maria Isabel Lago, singer-singwriter Caco Senante, musicographer Rosa Marquetti, singer Ana Belen and actors such as Juan Echanove.