Pablo Milanés dies: legend of Cuban music at the age of 79
Pablo Milanés Arias was born in the city of Bayamo, in eastern Cuba, in 1943, the youngest of five siblings born to working-class parents.
His musical talent was evident from an early age. At the age of six, Milanés began participating in, and often winning, singing contests on local television and radio stations, and later studied at the Municipal Conservatory of Havana.
Despite formal training, he generally credited the bohemian musicians of his local neighborhood as the inspiration for his early career.
Although he supported the Cuban Revolution of 1959, Milanés was an early target of Fidel Castro’s government, which cracked down on “alternative” culture.
The musician was reportedly bullied for wearing his hair in an afro, and in 1965 was sent to an agricultural labor camp for his interest in foreign music.
Finally he escaped and denounced the camps. But the experiences did not dampen his fervor for the revolution and he began to incorporate politics into his music.
Working with musicians such as Silvio Rodríguez and Noel Nicola, and sponsored by the Castro government, he co-founded the nueva trova movement, designed to update traditional Cuban popular music for modern, post-revolutionary society.
In 1987, the New York Times, externalcalled Rodríguez and Milanés, close collaborators, “as much a symbol of Cuba and its revolution as Fidel Castro and his beard”.
“The success of Silvio and Pablo is the success of the Revolution,” Fidel Castro said at a reception honoring the artists in 1984.