"I don't provide solutions, but am rather a kind of sniper. I
feel like a sniper when I am composing my music. From my
fairly comfortable position, I shoot at whatever I want." ---- Frank Delgado, Singer-songwriter  

Frank Delgado

Could you describe a little of your personal history, where you were born, your education, etc.?

Frank Delgado - I was born in a hospital in Havana, but during my early years I lived in a mining community in Pinar del Río, Las Minas


de Matahambre, where my father worked as an accountant for the mining company. I don't know exactly how one would describe my social class; middle-class, lower middle-class, I don't know. My father studied some accounting, and had a decent job. My mother was an elementary school teacher. She came from a very modest family

I was born with the Revolution, with all of the positive and negative things that a Revolution involves. While I was growing up, there were not any private residences, nor monopolies, nor landlords. These facts all became points of reference for me. When I was three years old we moved away from Las Minas de Matahambre and my father began to work within the Ministry of Industry with Che Guevara. I studied in public schools, and later, because I had good grades I went on to prepare myself for a technical career, studying hydrological engineering for five years. I worked for two years as a civil engineer in order to perform my social service, and then began my musical career. I never studied music in the University. But in 1985 I began to receive royalties for the songs I composed and wrote that other people were singing by then. In 1989 I became a professional musician. It was always pretty clear to me that music was what I wanted to pursue the most in life, and I let the other thing go.


What kind of musical influences did you have while growing up, and what interested you in becoming a musician?

Frank Delgado - I had a great ear for music, and in my childhood was always singing songs, singing them well. I always had an interest in music. After secondary school I entered a military academy and there was always a lot of music, a lot of singing going


on. I began to play the guitar - three or four chords at first. With those chords I started to write my first songs.

When I was young, it was more likely that someone would be a Martian than have a tape recorder. I grew up listening to the radio. I heard a lot of stuff during the 1960s that I could learn to play, stuff from Spain with simple music and silly lyrics. Then I heard Silvio Rodríguez, and I became hooked on his music. I saw him at my school several times. Here was a guy who dressed like a regular person, and simply came to play and sing. He didn't try to force his voice like all the others, but just let his lyrics speak for themselves. I learned a lot of his songs, always trying to be very faithful in my interpretations.

So I continued on, desiring to be a musician, an aficionado of the guitar but with my other profession. And then some of my songs started to sound pretty good, and other people began doing them. I had caught the bug, and I began participating at the University in festivals of the Federation of University Students, and eventually I won the Grand Prize for a song I had done. I would play in small settings, for maybe twenty people at a time. Now I play for 2,000 at a time in a theater, maybe. But this requires that I work every day, learning new things, working on new songs. Because the profession of the trovador is something very central to la cubanía - the life of Cubans. It seems that in every family there is a trovador, in every neighborhood at least. They are people who have always sung about what is happening in the neighborhood, things that concern people. Some better than others, some better known than others. To be a trovador in Cuba is to have a certain state of mind, a sense of poetic militancy. More than merely possessing a concept, one must have a certain kind of sentiment.


What was the impact of the political and social atmosphere of the 1960s here in Cuba on music?

Frank Delgado - Well, in those days the Revolution was always present. If today it is not so present, imagine that the first years of the Revolution were very volatile. Everything was done for the Revolution, from the Revolution, with the demands of the Revolution. You were either with the Revolution or you were not and you were a counterrevolutionary. I didn't see as much of this in the music as in other artistic manifestations such as film or literature. The music which I eventually liked the most was that which came to be called the Nueva Trova.

The message of these singers was not always direct. They were not rhetorical, and they certainly did not play the role of being propagandists of the system. They viewed their role within the Revolution as being one which could change the language of song, which by that time had become very much prostituted, and to renovate the music and, we can say, to put new clothes on it. To take the Trova from where it was, in small bars and cafes, and to take it to new places. I believe that the songs of the new trovadores were always dependent on everything that was going on in the country. They were poetic reflections of our reality.

I am from a generation which is less poetic and more concrete. My generation is made up of people - for example Carlos Varela, Gerardo Alfonso, Santiago Feliú, Alberto Tosca - who are better described as narrators than poets. The folks who emerged in the 1960s were poets. Silvio is a poet. Vicente Feliú is a poet. Noel Nicola is a poet. They established themselves as such. We are different. We are historians. This isn't to say that we don't have poetry in some of our songs, or that among the songs of Silvio there cannot be found linear narratives.


The singers of the Nueva Trova had to struggle in order to obtain recognition. What was your experience?

Frank Delgado - Until I was 28 years old I worked without any kind of pay with the exception of royalties I received for some songs I had written. I was not recognized as a professional singer, and here professional singers are employed by the government. I struggled a lot in order to be recognized among my peers, I demonstrated the merits of my work and had the support of the public and they had to allow me to become a professional. I obtained professional status at a time when Cuban money was still worth something, when it was worth singing and you got paid decently for your performances. And I basically stopped charging later (during the Special Period) when the absurd laws here made it impossible for me to work for real money and I had to continue working simply out of the love of art. I play publicly these days, but I'm not making any money. I don't live from my art, I live for it. I don't live from music, I live for it. A lot of folks left this country because they were not being recognized as professionals and that's too bad. There came a point in time when some of our artistic leaders here couldn't figure out how to deal with the contradictions. Nowadays some younger people are having a little more luck at being recognized as professionals and they are maybe not having to suffer what I went through.


How do you treat your material and construct your narration of what you see happening?

Frank Delgado - I am a product of the times in which I live. Artists do interpretations of reality, we try to be near reality. That's part of my responsibility. Everyone does this in a different way - if we all did it in the same way then the world would be pretty boring, right? I think it depends on the kind of culture that one has. You can make yourself more and more objective in your treatment of the problems facing you. And artists are people


that help to form social consciousness, they have a kind of work which requires a great level of responsibility.

Silvio has said that a certain kind of self-censorship exists among us, that if we do not want to be subjected to certain things then we don't talk about them. This has not been the case with me. I have spoken of everything which I have wanted to talk about. Everything that has hit me, which has made me sad, which I have felt. The trovadores have always been chroniclers. If you listen to the older songs of the traditional Trova, you will hear a lot of social reflection in those songs. I try to deal with reality. I don't know if my material is dated, and I am not preoccupied with whether my treatment is transcendental or if it takes themes to a higher level. These are very relative terms. There are songs of the Mexican Revolution from 1914 that are still being sung today. They still are valid. Times have changed but people are still facing the same conditions.

I am pretty critical, pretty acidic in my treatment. But I try to put a big dose of humor into my work. I believe a lot in humor, in laughter. Martí used to say that "humor ought to hit people like a whip with rattlesnakes at the end." Others are more apologetic, or more messianic in confronting problems. Maybe very serious. There are people who like to be that way. Then there are people who like it the way I do, with humor which is a bit corrosive. I think this is a bit more in the spirit of the rhythms which I utilize, which are usually traditional Cuban rhythms. For example I use the rhythm of son, which is a great vehicle for telling a story, and is fairly easy to put a narrative to.

But above all I am a type of witness - who is trying to narrate in a poetic way, an artistic way, a musical way. I didn't invent the jineteras (prostitutes), I didn't invent the apagones (blackouts), I didn't invent brujería (African-based religions), nor the loss of values, and these are things that exist which my songs reflect. Sometimes with humor, sometimes done better, sometimes worse. But at a minimum my intention is to present these kinds of problems to people without being a messiah and without presenting myself as some kind of savior. I don't provide solutions, but am rather a kind of sniper. I feel like a sniper when I am composing my music. From my fairly comfortable position, I shoot at whatever I want. I have the sensibility to recognize the problems which exist here, to set them to poetry and song. There are others who get paid to solve people's problems and who never solve anything. I don't know how to run a country. Nobody's ever going to ask me to do that.

I want people to enjoy my songs, I want them to sing, I want them to laugh, and probably more than anything else I want them to be moved by my songs, to identify with them. I certainly don't sing in order to entertain people. Maybe to refresh them, but not to entertain them, which for me is just a kind of prostitution. If that was a necessity for me then maybe I would just be a prostitute. For me, to look for art for the sheer sake of entertainment is about the same as going to a brothel. And, hey, maybe everyone needs to go to a brothel once in a while. I'm not saying that that's not a necessity at times!


For more on Frank Delgado, including song lyrics, visit his website at http://www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Backstage/1815/frank.html

For audio of Frank Delgado songs, check out http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Cafe/8694/index.html