Carlos Varela

Carlos Varela

An immensely-popular Cuban singer and composer. He became part of the most renowned stages of the island’s music in the late 1980s. Heir to a solid musical current such as the Nueva Trova, the singer-songwriter is closer to Latin rock in all its variants than to traditional Cuban music.

His poetry and music are unabashedly influenced by artists such as Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Joaquín Sabina and Dave Matthews. His songs incorporate the musical treatment of a band, although Carlos Varela’s most powerful ally in his more than 30-year career has always been his guitar.

In a passionate and free manner, Varela has sung to several generations of Cubans with lyrics that constantly evoke images. In general, his cinematographic lyrics could be considered as bridges: they go from uniting, to shortening distances. They are joined in people until they settle in their blood, using as a vehicle melodies to laugh, cry, dance, and make love. This is one of the features that gives transcendence to his work.

In an interview, Varela explains: “Music does not move governments. But music moves people, and people can move governments”. With a supernatural faith and persistence to building bridges with his songs, Cubans outside Cuba receive him anywhere in the world as one receives an old friend. Born in an island with an overwhelming history of migration and resilience, his followers in any geography are eternally grateful.

Carlos Varela has performed on diverse stages, from the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C., to the memorable Paz sin Fronteras concert coordinated by Colombian musician Juanes. He has performed with resounding success at the Gussman Center (Miami), the Center For Democracy in the Americas (Washington, D.C.), the Lincoln Center (New York) and many others.

His performance is a round concept. With a degree in performing arts, each one of his shows has an impeccable staging, a fertile ground for emotions to flow naturally. Not only when he plays with his band, but also when he shares the stage with musicians such as Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés, Joaquín Sabina, Fito Páez, Jackson Browne or Dave Matthews.

The cinematographic pulse of his music, has earned him participation in soundtracks of films such as Powder Keg (2001), starring Clive Owen, and Man on Fire (2004), with greats like Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning in the main roles; as well as the Cuban films Las profecías de Amanda [Amanda’s Prophecies] (1999) and Video de familia [Family Video (2001). Una palabra is Varela’s most versioned song and has been translated into more than a dozen languages.

He received in 2014 an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Queen’s University, Ontario Canada for his “remarkable contributions to the lives of people around the world.” In the documentary The Poet of Havana, directed by Ron Chapman the following year, many of those interviewed attest to the unifying will of his music. This material, which honors his 30-year career, captures an intimate view of Carlos Varela’s socio-cultural impact through his art.

The poet performs with the pride of one who can still make a living from his craft, shaking both the skeletons and souls of his listeners. That dream-based fuel has him spinning around his next album, La feria de los tontos (Fool’s Fair), a creative process resulting from a powerful action: that of fiercely reinventing himself.