The day I beat Silvio Rodríguez

The House of the Young Creator, in San Pedro y Sol, was the Mecca of the trova in the 80s. The old house that had belonged to the Count of Mortera, was a maze of stairs and halls and mezzanines and illustrious nooks for furtive love. It had been remodeled in 1983 to become a cultural institution for young art, a tropical version of the Hause der Junger Talenten of the FDJ (Free German Youth) in Berlin.

On the upper floor there was a small room for about eighty people and a beautiful hall that was used for receptions, rehearsal rooms that were sometimes also used for literary workshops, a primitive recording studio and curtains that kept dust and hid some secret doors. .

In the mezzanine, With very low struts, which were once the rooms of the domestic slaves of Don José Fajardo and Covarrubias, there were a lot of offices of the different sections of the Hermanos Saíz Association. An oppressive and claustrophobic corridor surrounded the second level and led you to unexpected gatherings of hermits and mountebanks who discovered their philosopher’s stones and tried to find the very essence of art.

On Saturdays it was the day of the Trova in the House of the Young Creator. From 2 in the afternoon to 8 at night the best open microphone that has ever existed in this country was working. Keeping certain hierarchies, the troubadours followed one another in a chaotic order and at the same time with a certain logic, the novices were the first, then the young people with a certain prestige and the end for the consecrated. But you could find a consecrated singer singing in the novice schedule because he had a later commitment.

Everyone passed through there, from Silvio and Pablo to the most emerging troubadour. I loved going through its imposing porte-cochere every Saturday and accessing the beautiful colonial patio. Occupy one of the small tables and sit on those stumps lined with green vinyl.

Enjoying the premieres of the troubadours, doing voices in the songs of colleagues, sipping the aggressive and cheap “Ronda” that Máximo the bartender served in that damp-free cave called Bar Tolo.

At the edge of 8, after the marathon of songs, the remaining troubadours would gather to bring the “activity” to a close. It could be with “Saltarina”, “Quédate para germinar”, “Para Bárbara” with a choral arrangement, or “Comandante Carlos Fonseca” by the Nicaraguan brothers Mejía Godoy.

What a long wait until next Saturday, unless there was an Exhibition, the visit of some group of Argentine tourists from the Ventana agency, or the 100th birthday of the troubadour Tata Villegas with the choir directed by Frank Fernández with bards from different generations. singing “Longina”.

It was the winter of 1987. I arrived too early on a Saturday and went up to the office of the director of the House of the Young Creator in the mezzanine claustrophobic. At that time it was Gerardo Álvarez, a “cadre” from the UJC with musical concerns (who years later was the drummer and manager of the Chilean singer-songwriter Alberto Plaza), a lover of trova music and an excellent host.

Under the cover of the air conditioning and the “Ronda” we get entangled in ethereal philosophical disquisitions. After a while Benito de la Fuente appeared, at the time the lead singer of the group Mayohuacán, psychologist and bohemian. He encouraged the gathering but then threatened to die due to the lack of rum. Benito and I were about to resign when there was a knock on the office door. It was Silvio Rodriguez.

As befits the protocol, we gave the best seat to the visit of such a high dignitary. Gerardo, showing off his reputation as a good host, made a commendable 7-year-old Havana Club Añejo appear from inside the cylindrical body of an ashtray, the best I’ve ever tasted, climbing the social ladder with a bang.

How many can boast of having tasted a special vintage with Silvio. And there it did not stop.

Silvio and Benito talked about Jorge de la Fuente and Gerardo explained the reforms in the institution, and mentioned the acquisition of a desk table tennis for relaxation of the artists. She got all the minstrel’s attention. Silvio asked him to show it to him, so we left the office and went upstairs. In the reception room and near the stairs was a table that had just come out of some Inder store.

Gerardo rode the net and brought some rackets, gave one to Silvio and they rehearsed a scoop.

Evidently Gerardo was a neophyte in table tennis.

-Can I? I ventured to say.

I started a little erratic, but little by little I was gaining sight. Evidently Silvio had played table tennis at some point in his life, but he argued that he had not collided with the ball for years. Ours were getting better and better boules, and we rehearsed some shy auctions. Little by little, curious people who were waiting for the Peña de la Trova went up. When we decided to play the first game, the place was already full.

I proposed to him to play 11 goals, with diagonal kicks and 5 for each one. He didn’t like the idea very much but he agreed.

I’ve always had a good serve, and that day they came out devilish, so I quickly got ahead on the scoreboard. When it was Silvio’s turn to take out, he won me a couple of goals. It was also very good with the service from him. It was just trying to win two points and then trying to end the game based on serves.

That’s how it went. 11 to 4.

Silvio asked me for a rematch but playing with his style, free serve and the service of whoever won the goal.

He started by taking out himself and won three goals in a row. The public, who was obviously in favor of him, expected him to give me a big cock (6-0). At the fourth serve I guessed his intentions and won the goal.

My serve helped me balance the score, at least I wasn’t going to be a big cock anymore.

In summary, it was very close, Silvio was a specialist in the free kick and made me sweat and play in the middle of the table. He lost serve at 9 to 8 in his favor. Expectation, 9 to 9 and taking me out.

The public did not want Silvio to lose. He made a not very damaging serve and in the bolea Silvio won the goal. He thought that perhaps he had been condescending.

“Next time take it out as it is, I don’t want you to spare my life,” he told me.

I won the goal in one bolea long.

10 to 10, you had to play until 12.

“And it serves well,” he told me again.

Some faces in the audience were asking me not to.

I fired two cannon shots, diagonally but with two different effects. Couldn’t get any. 12 to 10. Victory fought. We shook hands and another butterfly thing. The public left the room and little by little they went down to the colonial patio. The troubadours, now without the unfair competition of the party, began their rounds.

Silvio attended for a long time. At one point he left the forum.

In those years Silvio had invited Santiago and Carlos Varela to his international tours. A friend came up to me and said:

—After that game Silvio is not going to invite you to any tour.

Bad prophet my friend. Five years later, in September 1993, Silvio took me with him on his six-concert tour of Spain, but that’s another story.

Frank Delgado and Silvio Rodriguez.

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