When a friend asked me if I would cover the Woodstock Film Festival for her I was hesitant at first however after learning that the premiere film was “The Poet of Havana” a Documentary about Cuban Poet and Folk Singer Carlos Varela, I jumped on board immediately. I had been listening to Carlos music for months now after hearing a cover of his song “Muros y Puertos “in English “Walls and Doors” by Jackson Browne on Jackson’s new CD.
So after many phone calls and meetings I was invited to dinner by Ron Chapman, the director of the film and we had planned an interview later in the evening. Walking into the Japanese steak house there he was, sitting in between the members of his band dressed in black, dark sunglasses and sporting his customary black beanie knit cap on his head. As I approached the table Carlos jumped up in the middle of eating and walked towards me. Before I could utter a word he wrapped his arms around me and gave me perhaps the tightest hug I ever had. I hugged him back. “Eat, join us please”, he signaled me and conveyed the words to his keyboard player, Aldo Lopez Gavilan’, who is a jazz/classical virtuoso in his own right; He had joined the band to learn from Carlos. When I asked Ron what a musical genius like this could learn from Carlos, Ron responded, “It’s not about the music for Aldo. Aldo did not join to learn music but to learn from Carlos the humility and way of Carlos, how he gives to his people” said Ron.
Carlos performs many free concerts in Cuba for his people. He believes that he has a duty to make more than a living with his music. We talk about songwriting and he tells me that he does not like being called “the Cuban Bob Dylan”. ““This is a way of speaking that the journalists use. I really like Dylan, but I’m not the Dylan of Cuba. We’ve taken very different paths and also some very similar as well. I’ve never liked the labels that the journalists use to place you in a style”. Carlos tells me this through his translator Evry Mann.
We go on to speak about how horrible music is today in the United States as in Cuba as well. “These are the universal laws of the radio. The law of the radio is, if you give the people shit, they will eat shit”, we all crack up laughing knowing how true Carlos words are. Ron tells me that I am now accepted as a member of their family. In the short time that we are together we all become very close. I take out one of my CD’s and give it to Carlos as a gift. He immediately reached into his bag and hands me his newest CD, “No Es El Fin” which in English means “It’s Not The End”. It was a more than a pleasure to meet this Poet, Singer and Legend in Cuba and to call him my friend. Carlos music is some of the most moving work I have heard in years. Check it out if you can.
New Charles Lyonhart CD coming in 2018. Stay tuned here for details.
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Live video of me performing "Leap of Faith" at a Benefit Concert in Rhinebeck against the Dakota Pipeline with George Quinn on upright bass and Brian Hollander on dobro. November 19, 2016.