One of the only times I was ever given a song in a Spanish language class it was ‘Unicornio Azul’ by Silvio Rodríguez. I hated it. Years later I have belatedly discovered that Rodríguez has actually written some great songs. Here is one of them…
Silvio Rodríguez is a Cuban singer-songwriter, a key figure in the folk protest movement known as Nueva Trova. In his early twenties he worked for 5 months on a fishing boat called Playa Girón. This provided the inspiration for this song, included on his debut album “Días y Flores” (1975). However, it is also the name of the beach which was a landing site during the infamous ‘Bay of Pigs’, the 1961 attack on Cuba engineered by the USA. Hence the title is loaded with meaning, and Rodriguez is acclaimed for this ability to combine poetry and politics in his lyrics.
NB I took this translation by Vern Nelson as my starting point, however I have made quite a few changes (improvements I hope).
PLAYA GIRÓN 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 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. Compañeros de historia, tomando en cuenta lo implacable 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.
GIRÓN BEACH My fellow poets, Taking into account The latest trends in poetry, If you would allow me to ask (I feel that I must) What kind of adjectives Should one use to write A poem about a ship? Without sounding sentimental, Old fashioned, Or sounding like a polemical pamphlet If I should I use words Like Cuban fishing fleet And Girón beach My fellow musicians, Taking into account Today’s daring polytonal songs, If you would allow me to ask (I feel that I must) What type harmonies Should one use to write The song about this ship With men who hardly had a childhood Men who are just Tough sailors on deck Men black, red And blue, the men who populate Girón beach My companions in history Taking into account How unforgiving the truth must be, If you would allow me to ask (I really feel that I must) What should I say? Which rules should I respect? If someone steals food and then Gives up his life, what should we do? How far should we Follow these truths? How much do we really know? Well, let them write the story, Their own story, the men Of Girón beach