"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

Let's talk about the themes which you present in the song La Otra Orilla (The Other Shore), which deal with relationships between Cubans and Cuban-Americans.

Frank Delgado - I have in Cuba four cousins and in the United States seventeen. Almost all of my cousins live in the States! Including four who were born there that only speak English. Imagine how many aunts and uncles I have over there. I know well the ruptures which exist in my family. Our Revolution polarized this society and polarized families within it. For example, in my father's family there were those who did not like the Revolution and they took off to the United States to pursue their lives. What bothers me is the manipulation of all of this on the part of both sides. At one time here, early on, it was prohibited to talk of family in the United States, it was practically taboo to talk of these people. Receiving a letter or speaking over the phone was not looked at well. I know people who didn't speak with their brothers or sisters for many years, because it was considered a bad thing to have such a family member living abroad.

It has always been a type of doble moral (double standard.) The song speaks of this doble moral that the Cuban government has had with the treatment of the people who live on "the other shore," as I say. This always messed with me. So I sang this song and it had a big impact among people. I didn't discover the theme, but found that it was on other people's minds. The song speaks a little about the history of my family which is over there. And with respect to the family here it speaks of the tribulations which they had to go through. And that where before, the latter couldn't even speak about their relatives, now they had to treat them as if they were first class citizens. Things like that happen. This is for me mainly an economic question, and not a political one as a lot of people attempt to read into the song.


Another recurring theme. For many Che Guevara is a symbol of hope and commitment. In the United States Che's image is commercialized, on everything from t-shirts to Taco Bell commercials. Has anything similar transpired here? Why do you sing about Che?

Frank Delgado - If Che were alive and knew the extent to which he was used as a cult figure and an object by capitalism he would probably die all over again. But in the case of Cuba there hasn't been this kind of sudden "Chemanía," because a form of it has always existed. Here there has always been a very


special treatment given to the figure of Che. In elementary school the slogan of the Pioneers is "¡Pioneros por el comunismo - Seremos como el Che!" (To build Communism - We will be like Che!). At times they say it like automatons. Some are able to internalize better what Che was all about. For me, Che was a very special person. You'll never hear me beating him down. He did what very few people do: put his life on the line for an idea in which he strongly believed. Maybe I'm not the kind of guy to give so much of myself. I would not be the one to go to Bolivia to make a revolution. I wouldn't be the one to go to Africa to make a revolution. I probably wouldn't have even left Argentina. I would have stayed there in Rosario and wouldn't have done anything but just be a normal guy.

But in any event, to us normal folks Che is an example, is he not? He is loved in Cuba by people on the left, people who consider themselves to be progressive. He is hated and vilified by people who don't share the ideas of the left. Then there are some who say he was a murderer, others who say he was a robber. Some say he was the last romantic of this century, others a very utopian type. Perhaps in my case what he leaves behind are certain romantic things, utopias, dreams. The idea that maybe we have some options, and that these ideas are not quite yet dead. In this pragmatic and commercialized world symbolized by money, a big dose of utopian ideas can serve as a kind of venom for people to provide a little bit of balance and equilibrium to their lives.


Do you consider yourself a revolutionary?

Frank Delgado - Sure. I always learned that a revolutionary is someone who is dynamic, who is immersed in a process. I believe that I am a revolutionary in various aspects. Not in my music, because I have never invented anything. But as a person, I feel bothered by injustice. I’m always wanting to turn the screws a little bit more. In my treatment of my work I have a sense of solidarity with people, but not out of feelings of charity. I believe in social justice, and part of my artistic life speaks to issues of injustice.

  Now, if you ask me if I believe in the essence of the Cuban Revolution, yes, I still believe in this. But we could have been more visionary and avoided being faced with the rather brutal shock of capitalism without having prepared ourselves adequately for it. We have relied at times on certain formulas which have not worked and which have caused our people to lose their sense of creativity. Now, when we have dedicated ourselves to something heart and soul we have achieved many things. In sports, culture and medicine, for example. Although generally speaking folks aren’t sick year around. People want more than just sports, medicine and culture.

What are your preoccupations with music in terms of this clash between capitalism and socialism here in Cuba?

Frank Delgado - Well, we are converting ourselves into an exporter of music. I am a singer-songwriter. Singer-songwriters do not usually have an academic musical background. But Cuban musicians who are well-trained are leaving the country, contracted by people who can pay three, four, five times what can be paid inside the country. The playing field needs to be leveled, or steps should be taken so our musicians don't all leave. It's not about making ourselves into a rich country, because we will never be able to do that. We are dealing with a system which is very unequal. For example, if an Argentine soccer player is good enough, he may play in Europe because of the money. He may also stay at home because of his sense of patriotism, or because he can't make it playing anywhere else. But either way it goes, it is considered "normal" in the world to follow the money. Maybe it's normal that a French musician will play in the United States, or that a Spanish musician will go play in Thailand.

Cuba is now converting itself into an exporter of artists across the board. If you check out Latin America there are tons of Cuban actors in soap operas. These are people trained in Cuban academic institutions. They prefer to go off to do the soap opera thing, rather than pursue good theater or something truly artistic here in Cuba. But art is more than a commodity. Plus we're all not the same, and the world is not equal. There are people who prefer to die of hunger creating what they really want to create because this satisfies them artistically. In my case, I could be doing traditional music with a trio right now and be in Old Havana making twenty dollars a day. Listen, these days twenty dollars a day is quite a salary in most countries in the world. I could be doing this but it wouldn't do anything to satisfy me.


So, are you saying that space no longer exists for artists in Cuba who live for the love of their art?

Frank Delgado - Oh, it all exists. The problem is that not everyone is altruistic. And people's lives change. They may have families, they may get tired. There comes a time when as artists we have to have a dialogue about all this. It's not that artists need to get rich or become millionaires. But at the least they should be paid proportionate to their ability to draw people to their performances. Because for example here we have fixed salaries for most artistic professions. This can lessen the value attached to artists, and kill their creativity. I am not interested in being like a salsa musician or the others. But if I can draw 2,000 people then I want a salary in some way commensurate with that. It sucks that a keyboard player can give performances which his mother would never even want to see, yet can get by simply because he studied. I'm not saying that we send the pianist to cut cane. But we are subsidizing this person, and he is going to die artistically because he is simply accommodating himself. The only thing he is interested in is drawing his salary. Nothing else is important. This kind of thing causes a lot of other artists to become demoralized and to lose their sense of creativity and spontaneity.


How is your music received by Cubans?

Frank Delgado - By luck, both of my CDs, Trova-Tur and La Habana Está de Bala were recorded here a little over a year apart in the same auditorium in front of Cuban audiences, and you can feel their presence in the recordings. The public is like a thermometer, a kind of active dictionary in case I don't understand something they're saying or are concerned about. If they laugh at things I say, then I guess I'm being funny. The public is an active dictionary for people who don't know Cuban reality.

But in the first place, I sing songs because I like them myself. If folks don't like some of my songs that's life. But if I don't like one of my songs then I am not going to perform it. If people like it, and I like it, then that's double satisfaction. I try to be objective, profound and cultured. In this struggle one continues on for ever. No one ever knows how the "fourth wall" - the public - will respond. Lately I have had a lot of success with the public. Some day they may give me the cold shoulder. That's the way things are. The public is a mystery.


Do you have any special message for people in the United States?

Frank Delgado - Well, apart from the best-known Cuban music, which is dance music, there is a one hundred year old school here called the Trova Cubana. It's very alive, and it includes representatives who are maybe a little bit younger than Silvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés. We are making our own history. We draw audiences here in Cuba. We have not had a lot of luck selling records on the market, but I hope that people are able to open their hearts and listen to us some day. And also, that I have the opportunity to visit the United States. For me, the U.S. was always painted as a bad place. You know, when some cousin of mine would leave for the States I would be saying "You poor thing, think what could happen to you there!" (Laughs)

I hope that my material can be played on the radio there. I would really like a chance to perform there. Performances for me are like the act of communion. When I get up on stage, I seem like a priest because I talk so much! More than a cantautor (singer-songwriter) I can be a hablautor ("talker-writer.") And I definitely want to perform in the U.S.


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