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“La gaviota” (“The Seagull”, 1976)

Silvio Rodríguez

in Unicornio (1982)


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Rodríguez was one of the first performers who volunteered for the Angolan War, to which Cuban troops were being sent; he originally signed up as a radio-telegrapher before a movement was organized to send entertainers to the front. He was not alone; other trovadores who departed for Angola around that time included the Manguaré group, Vicente Feliú, and Víctor Casaus (Casaus 1984: 239; Díaz Pérez 1995: 148). Rodríguez explained this willingness to participate as follows:

 

Nuestra generación no pudo participar en la lucha insurreccional; recuerdo que cuando Fidel despedía al primer grupo que se iba para Angola, decía que todos los jóvenes necesitan un Moncada, y que el nuestro era el internacionalismo proletario.[1] (Díaz Pérez 1995: 151)

Organized as an artistic mission, these trovadores traveled throughout Angola, visiting battlefronts and liberated zones from February and July of 1976, and again from November, 1976 to January, 1977, the latter trip accompanied by Pablo Milanés, Noel Nicolá, Vicente Feliú, and Virulo. Songs that Rodríguez wrote or sang during these tours included “Aceitunas,” “Canción de identidad,” “Canción para mi soldado,” “Testamento,” and “Pioneros” (Díaz Pérez 1995: 160-161).  

La Gaviota

Fig. 13-“La gaviota,” Lyrics and chord chart


“La gaviota” contrasts the images of a dead soldier (verse, “Había un soldado regresando intacto/intacto del frío mortal de la tierra”) with that of a soaring seagull (pre-chorus and chorus).45 Rodríguez uses two tonalities to contrast these images: C# minor for the verse, with its images of death, and the relative major E for the graceful flight of the seagull (pre-chorus, “Gaviota, gaviota, vals del equilibrio”). Harmonic patterns also fit these images; the verse is harmonically static, shifting regularly between the two chords C# minor and A major, whose common tones seem to increase this static sense. Meanwhile, the harmonies in the pre-chorus (Ex. 13A) climb higher step by step, from E to A, as does the melody in parallel, effectively painting a bird gaining altitude in flight.

Ex. 13A-“La gaviota,” Pre-chorus and Chorus

In the chorus, the seagull seems to symbolize the leaving of life (“gaviota que pasa y se lleva la vida”). In contrast to the preceding sections, the harmonies here become more volatile as this taking of life is described. The chorus starts in a deceptive cadence to F# minor (“Adónde te marchas”), mixes mode by using A minor (iv) (“canción de la brisa”), and only briefly returns to the tonic before reaching the words “Disparo en la sien” –the moment of death, and arguably the climax of the song. These words are set in the only perfect authentic cadence in the song, which is in F# minor (ii) - a key other than either one of the tonics; it is as if this moment of death is given more harmonic certainty than life. The chorus, however, continues to an inconclusive end harmonically, with “se lleva la vida” ending on A (IV/E); this chord circles back to C# minor. Hence, Rodríguez uses a major key and its relative minor to paint the opposite poles of life and death, volatile harmonies encompassing major and minor modes to describe the taking of life, and a perfect authentic cadence to show the conclusiveness of death over life. The song finishes on the death key of C# minor.


  • [1] “Our generation could not participate in the insurrection; I remember when Fidel saw off the first group going to the Angolan War, he said that all young people needed a Moncada (attack on a garrison in Santiago de Cuba in 1953, led by Castro, that sparked off the Cuban Revolution), and that ours was that of proletarian internationalism.”

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