Pablo Milanés, a Grammy-winning musician and influential figure in Cuba’s “nuevo Trova” (new music) movement, passed away at the age of 79.
His emotive singing and beautiful words on singles like Yolanda, Yo Me Quedo (I’m Staying), and Amo Esta Isla earned him the nickname Pablito (I Love This Island).
H’s passing was announced on his official Facebook page, external, “with much anguish and sadness.”
Milanés postponed several shows earlier this month to receive treatment for blood malignancy in Spain.
The death of Pablo Milanes has caused culture-wide grief in Cuba, the country’s prime minister Manuel Marrero Cruz tweeted on Monday evening.
In 1943, Pablo Milanés Arias, the youngest of five children born to working-class parents, was born in the city of Bayamo in eastern Cuba.
His musical abilities were obvious even as a young child. Milanés began participating in and frequently winning singing competitions on local TV and radio stations when he was six years old. He later attended the Conservatorio Municipal in Havana.
Despite receiving professional training, he frequently cited the local bohemian musicians as an influence on his early career.
The government of Fidel Castro initially attacked Milanés even though he backed the Cuban revolution of 1959 and cracked down on “alternative” culture.
The musician was allegedly persecuted for sporting an afro, and in 1965 he was transferred to a forced labor camp for farmers because he liked foreign music.
He eventually managed to flee and condemned the camps. His passion for the revolution was unaffected by the experiences, and he started fusing politics into his music.
He co-founded the nuevo Trova movement, which was intended to modernize traditional Cuban folk music for the modern, post-revolutionary society, working with performers like Silvio Rodriguez and Noel Nicola, and was supported by Castro’s government.
Rodriguez and Milanés, who worked closely together in 1987, were described as “as much a symbol of Cuba and its revolution as Fidel Castro and his beard” by the New York Times, external.
At a 1984 reception honoring the artists, Fidel Castro was quoted as saying, “The success of Silvio and Pablo is the success of the Revolution.”
The iconic Latin American love song Yolanda was written by Milanés in 1970 as an homage to his then-girlfriend Yolanda Benet, who had recently given birth to Lynn.
The song, an everlasting favorite, the musician claimed, outshone even his celebrity.
“Yolanda has had a huge impact on my career. She has been more persistent than I would have liked, stronger than me, and unpredictable compared to me.
Therefore, in my opinion, the product itself goes beyond the artist’s original aims.
Yo No Te Pido, Los Aos Mozos, and Cuba Va are some of his other well-known songs. He has won numerous Latin Grammys, including a lifetime achievement award in 2015.
Milanés was unpopular because of his unwavering loyalty to Castro, especially among exiled Cubans, but as he aged, he grew more skeptical of the Cuban revolution.
He supported a dissident on a hunger strike in 2010 who was calling for the release of political prisoners.
Additionally, Milanés endorsed a document called the Manifesto of Cuban Civil Society in 2021 in response to the island’s widespread protests, which demanded immediate social and economic reforms.
As he signed the paper, he remarked, “Our country, united, needs to make room for new voices and new ways of thinking, that are demanding new laws and new freedoms.”
He performed his final show in Havana in June 2022.