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The people on the street speculated about the participants before they were officially announced: international musicians Juanes, Miguel Bosé, Víctor Manuel, Olga Tañón, Luis Eduardo Aute, Jovanotti, Cucú Diamante and Yerbabuena, Danny Rivera and Fernando Velazco, plus local musicians X Alfonso, Amaury Pérez, Silvio Rodríguez, Carlos Varela, Orishas and Juan Formell’s Van Van band.
Very early in the morning of the 20th of September, large crowds, principally of young people, began to flock in. Over one million people waited in the stifling heat. The Puerto Rican Grammy-winner Olga Tañón, who opened the concert, was welcomed with a tremendous ovation while she reaffirmed the spirit of the show—to sing for peace and for the youth in Cuba. “It’s time to change!” she assured, quoting Juanes. Cheerful and very musical, although her strong voice was not at its best due to laryngitis, she nevertheless set the audience dancing to the rhythm of her hectic merengues. She went from surprise to satisfaction when she discovered that many people in the audience were able to sing along with her.
Half an hour later, she handed over the stage to X Alfonso, an expert in mixing Afro-Cuban, rock, hip-hop, reggae and popular Cuban styles, who sang “Revoluxion” and “Black and White,” accompanied by his parents, bassist and composer Carlos Alfonso, and vocalist and keyboard player Ele Valdés. Danny Rivera, a regular presence in the island for several decades, sang two of his most successful hits, “Madrigal and “Yo quiero un pueblo” the crowd singing along with the Puerto Rican singer. The Ecuadorian Fernando Velazco, virtually unknown to the Cuban public, acted like a balm with his pleasant melodies after the fiery Caribbean rhythms that came before him. A key figure in the organization of the show, the singer songwriter Amaury Pérez from Cuba chose two hits of all time, “Amor difícil” and “Hacerte venir,” although his performance lacked the expected impact. From Spain, Víctor Manuel was warmly received by the audience, the majority of whom were born after his last performance in Cuba, but who know his beautiful songs by heart.
A high point during the concert was the much awaited performance by Miguel Bosé, who has legions of fans in Cuba. After singing several of his most well-known songs, he rounded off his solo performance with the internationally famous “Bandido” with the help of a million-strong chorus. Bosé was followed by the explosive Italian rapper Jovanotti and the US resident, Cuban salsa singer Cucú Diamante and the bands Yerbabuena from Venezuela and Yoruba Andabo from Cuba. The excitement rose to fever pitch with Orishas who performed in their homeland for the first time in ten years. Proving their fame in Cuba despite the distance, the gigantic crowd rapped together with them.
Almost four hours later, Juanes made his entrance. Despite his many hits and prizes, he is free from any affectation. He assured the people that “music should travel like air, whatever our opinions may be” and urged the Cuban youth to change for the better the future that is in their hands. After singing several of his most famous hits, when he dedicated Solos “to all the people who are deprived of their freedom wherever they may be,” he touched a delicate subject, as on the one hand, the Cuban Government has been criticized for the many political prisoners that are allegedly in the island’s jails, while Cuba has demanded that the case of the Cuban Five be reopened; and on the other hand, some think the popular singer is much too harsh when he condemns the Colombian guerrilla and ignores the criticism at governments that have been part of the decades-long bloody conflict in his country. Because his words, however, could be interpreted in several different ways, the message of peace prevailed. “Let’s turn to Cuba with love, everybody!” was reminiscent of Pope John Paul’s words in that same place in 1998. Together with Miguel Bosé, he sang “Nada particular”: “Give me an island in the middle of the ocean. Call her Liberty.”
Silvio Rodríguez, the most prolific singer-songwriter of the Nueva Trova, sang one of the most beautiful love songs ever written accompanied by a mass chorus. Luis Eduardo Aute sang “Rosas en el mar,” a winning entry for Spain in the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest. Carlos Valera sang “Colgado del cielo” and “25 mil mentiras sobre la verdad.”
And as a grand finale, Juan Formell’s Van Van band played a potpourri of hits from the 1970s. The band was then joined by all of the artists who participated in the show singing the famous Chan chan by Compay Segundo of Buenavista Social Club fame. Miguel Bosé and Olga Tañón cried with their arms around each other. Juanes was visibly moved. The crowds sang and danced, while some of us who attended the concert wondered if we had been witnesses to the first act of the times of change predicted by Tañón and Juanes.