By Jacob Katel
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During the past three decades, Cuban exile Willy Chirino has chronicled his former country's political oppression and deteriorating social conditions.
Although his voice is at times wobbly and fragile, Chirino has cemented his reputation as one of Miami's most popular singers through emotionally charged political anthems such as "Nuestro Dia Ya Viene Llegando" ("Our Day Is Coming") and "Memorandum para un Tirano" ("Memorandum for a Tyrant").
His songs are more heartfelt than didactic, and they allow his fans to glimpse the emotional scars inflicted during Castro's reign.
Chirino's inability to forgive and forget can be traced to his exodus from Cuba. Though he fled almost 35 years ago, it remains fresh in his mind.
"I thought it was a visit that was going to last a few months," the singer recalls of his arrival in South Florida. "It was sort of a shock to leave my family, my friends, and everything I knew behind."
Although his dedication to all things Cuban borders on obsessive, he has grown to love Miami.
"This city is an absolute blessing," he says. "I have the best of both worlds: People have adopted me here, and there are many supporters in Cuba who in one form or another have been able to follow my career. It feels good and it motivates me each day to know that I've developed a sense of responsibility with the people in this community."
Aside from the critical and commercial acclaim, Miami has also exposed Chirino to a bevy of international sounds. Throughout his career he has experimented with mixing Caribbean, Brazilian, and rock sounds with the Cuban music that serves as his music's anchor. This hodgepodge of influences has earned Chirino the moniker Father of the Miami Sound.
His style has captured the imagination of others in the industry. Chirino's latest album, Son del Alma, has been nominated for a Grammy. This album and the single "Soy" ("I am") have been recorded in five different languages and have been transformed into a rollicking party jam by the Gipsy Kings.
But regardless of his popularity, Chirino will never abandon his raison d'tre.
"That message is going to be alive and part of my music for as long as I am," the singer/songwriter comments about his politically charged work. "I feel a pain and at the same time hope for my people that will exist today, tomorrow, and forever."