Silvio Rodriguez 1: Playa Girón

Beginning of an ongoing series of “Musicians You Probably Don’t Know But Should.” I’ll be performing three of Silvio’s songs, including this one, at my next concert Nov. 16 (in between Beethoven, Charles Ives, Duke Ellington, & David Bowie.)  This Cuban singer-songwriter, beloved across Latin America but practically unknown in the US, was always a great believer in his country’s socialist revolution, and yet has had an uneasy relationship with the Cuban authorities, with his obvious gringo influences and occasional “heresies” and criticisms of the government.  He counts his major influences as Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.  This anthem-like song was written while he worked on the “Playa Girón” fishing trawler, written in honor of the men who helped fight off the invasion at the Bay of Pigs.  Something all Cubans are proud of.  And yet, when you read the words, the song is so far from simple-minded propaganda…

Shortly after I discovered Silvio, he was discovered by the Talking Heads’ David Byrne, who convinced his record company to release a greatest hits which I highly recommend.  Click to hear the song; click “read more” to hear the song while reading the Spanish lyrics and English translation…


Compañeros poetas, tomando en cuenta
los últimos sucesos en la poesía, quisiera preguntar – me urge – ,
¿Qué tipo de adjetivos se deben usar para hacer
el poema de un barco, sin que se haga sentimental,
fuera de la vanguardia, o evidente panfleto,
si debo usar palabras como Flota Cubana de Pesca, y Playa Girón?

Comrade poets, taking into account the latest trends in poetry,
I want to ask: (It’s urgent to me!)
What sort of adjectives should we use to write a poem about a ship,
without sounding sentimental, failing to be revolutionary,
or coming off like some pamphlet;
Should I use words like “Cuban Fishing Fleet” and “Bay of Pigs?”

Compañeros de música, tomando en cuenta
esas politonales y audaces canciones, quisiera preguntar – me urge – ,
¿Qué tipo de armonía se debe usar para hacer
la canción de este barco con hombres de poca niñez,
hombres y solamente, hombres sobre cubierta?
Hombres negros y rojos y azules,
los hombres que pueblan el Playa Girón.

Comrade musicians, taking into account today’s daring polyphonic songs,
I want to ask: (It’s urgent to me!)
What harmonies should we use to compose the song of this ship
with men who were never kids, men, purely men, aboard,
black, red, blue men, the men of the Bay of Pigs?

Compañeros de historia, tomando en cuenta
lo impacable que debe ser la verdad, quisiera preguntar – me urge tanto- ,
¿Qué debiera decir? ¿Qué fronteras debo respetar?
Si alguien roba comida y después da la vida, ¿Qué hacer?
¿Hasta dónde debemos practicar las verdades?
¿Hasta dónde sabemos?
Que escriban, pues, la historia, su historia, los hombres del Playa Girón.

Comrade historians, bearing in mind how relentless Truth must be,
I want to ask: (It’s SO urgent to me!)
What should I say, what rules should I respect?
If someone steals food and then gives up his life, what should be done?
How far can we follow these truths?
How much do we really know?
So, let them write their own story, the men of the Bay of Pigs.

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.