Marisela Verena has never sat down to compose a song – or sing one for that matter – with the idea it’s going to climb the charts or end up getting regular airplay. It’s the message she’s trying to convey to the masses that concerns her most.
“I write and sing about what I feel while always trying to keep a sense of authenticity in my music,” says Verena. “It should be clear by now that I’m not to concerned with the commercial side of the industry ... If my message gets across to the people I sing for then I’ve done my job.”
Such philosophy hasn’t always made for a smooth ride but it’s hard to argue with the results the socially conscious and lyrically poetic Verena has garnered since venturing out to follow her dreams 36 years ago.
With ease for penning profound, witty and explicit lyrics – and never shy to border on political incorrectness - throughout most of her songs Verena has etched her place as one of the most innovative songwriters of this generation.
While not vocally gifted – something she has repeatedly admitted over the years – her heartfelt interpretive skills and bombastic tune have always made for an easy connection between her and the audience. “It’s like being surrounded by your family only you’re singing what they want
And with multiple hits both as a composer and interpreter the 55-year-old Verena has certainly given her most loyal supporters plenty to lash onto over the last four decades.
“There’s nothing in life like doing what you’re passionate about and have a love for,” says Verena, who has routinely fused son with trova in addition to possessing an orthodox singing style that is more
story-teller than anything else.
“And I’ve been fortunate enough to live a good life doing what I love to do the most. I feel a great sense of satisfaction with the way things have turned out. ”
With little regard for the consequences that might follow Verena has always expressed her feelings, whether they are about love, politics or country, at every opportunity. But getting her message across wasn’t always that easy.
Set on enriching her singing career and expanding her horizons she had no choice but to leave Miami for the then art-rich Puerto Rico as a teenager in the early seventies.
“The more I looked around the more Miami looked like a desert,” says Verena, who arrived from Cuba as part of the Pedro Pan movement in 1962. “I had gotten wind that there might be a better opportunity for me in Puerto Rico. They had three television stations, multiple radio stations and a record company there at the time so it seemed like the right move.”
Still, overcoming the stigma of being a Cuban exile wasn’t easy after arriving in Puerto Rico in 1971.
“A lot of doors were shut closed for me purely because I was a Cuban exile,” she says. “There were a lot of people unwilling to give a chance.”
But being barred from various festivals, clubs and even being targeted with bomb threats didn’t prevent her from developing a following at various bohemian clubs, including El Ocho Puerta (The Eight Door) in Old San Juan.
It was there that she sparked plenty of interest by singing socially influenced songs and material from nueva cancion stars like Joan Manuel Serrat and Violeta Parra while staying away from mainstream pop music.
After expanding into Puerto Rican radio and television, Verena moved to Spain in the mid-Seventies where she signed with the CBS label and began to write her own songs.
“I came to the conclusion that writing my songs I could say what I wanted to say it and how I wanted to say it,” she says.
But a return trip to Puerto Rico in 1978 would prove to be golden as Verena won El Festival of The Voice with “Piis: Amor” while representing Spain.
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The victory provided such a rush she elected to stay in Puerto Rico and record “Tu Companera” (Your Companion) and “Viento y Marea” (Wind and Tide), which produced a bevy of hits, including “Te Queda Grande” and “Viaje Adentro” (Inner Trip).
In 1989, she recorded “Son de las cuatro decadas” (Son of the Four Decades) and “Memorandum para un tirano” (Memo to a Tyrant), which quickly became anthems of sorts for Cubans in exile. But although she’s quickly identified with dethroning the communist island through song, Verena is quick to point out her music stretches out beyond being strictly “Cuban.”
“Its about more than just being Cuban,” she says. “My music is for everybody - whether you’re from Puerto Rico, Colombia, Spain, etc., etc. that anybody can grasp no matter where you’re from.”
Marisela Verena performs Saturday, August 18 at Kimbara Cumbara in Miami (1644 SW 8th Street). For additional information please call (305) 642-8822. -- Fernando Ruano Jr.