There was no mistaking Andrés Jiménez as he entered the room of a friend of his in Oakland. Wearing a straw hat, he looked much like the picture on the album he gave us, Barlovento, Canto a América Latina. He was on tour in California, sharing his songs, rich in the Puerto Rican tradition.
His casual, low-key manner as he spoke to us, betokened a man of modesty. Famed as a Jíbaro singer, Jiménez comes from the small mountain town of Orocovis. He grew up there on his family's ranch, one of fifteen children.
Jíbaros, poor mountain people, have an innate sense of freedom. Jiménez expresses in song his love of life and freedom, which he calls the highest objective of human beings. His songs deal with different phases of lovelove between men and women, love between human beings, love of country. They express moments of anguish, sadness and depression, as well, and the solitude of humanity. Though he carries in his heart the cause of independence, his songs are not protest songs. He wants them to serve, rather, to awaken people to strong feelings for their traditions, and the betterment of their country, to be alive to reality in their confrontation with life.
His own awakening came when, at the age of seventeen, he moved to New York City, and was drafted into the army. Action in Vietnam led him to the realization of the oppression of people against people, and of the reality of colonial control that involved him a war in no way related to his own country.
His passion for love and freedom has expressed itself through his writing and singing, which led to his present success and stature as a well-known recording artist, both in Puerto Rico and among a growing number of aficionados in this country.
He sees a solution to crime in Puerto Rico in the granting of equal education for all as to the Puerto Rican political and economic reality, and the sweeping out of all exploitation of the poor and the hungry. Developing in Puerto Ricans a spirit of national pride can make them stronger. He is confident that Puerto Ricans are quite capable of solving their own problems without dependency on the United States. The tendency is for them to look up to the power and wealth of their colonizer, and to deny their own potential. Such is the psychological effect of five hundred years of colonization. The problem is how to break through economic dependency, to develop their own industries and a strong economy.
Jiménez feels confidence in the new generation of Puerto Ricans who have grown up in the 1960s. He sees a strengthening of fiber on all levels of society. When he was seventeen, he favored the status quo. "If I can change, so can others!" he chuckled.
He sees hope, also, in the Latin American struggle for freedom, and that the United States is gradually losing power in that area. Puerto Rico is not alone in its fight for freedom, he points out. The conscience of all oppressors is involved.
He doesn't feel the threat of harassment. Though aware of the power of United States intelligence forces, and their subtle ways of working against independentistas, he chooses to ignore any threat to himself.
He sees the power of love to overcome oppression. Independence will come, he believes, if not in his lifetime, at least for his children or his grandchildren. All this is expressed in his songs. "One cannot be a poet and not love freedom," he tells memuch as I had learned from Francisco Matos Paoli.
An artist friend listening in said she had detected some Arabic influence in his music. The Spanish influence is in his blood, he explained, and Spain has been influenced by the Moors. She expressed also a feeling of global vision in his songs. "They affect me like a bottle-opener," she said. "They open up in me an incentive to create, to pursue my painting."
Claridad reviewed his record, El Jíbaro, as encompassing three universal themes: "Human conception of destiny, moments of anguish, sadness and depression, and solitude of humanity."
To another singer, Chuito, Jiménez expressed a thought that could well apply to himself:
Many songs surge
Produced with your clay
Born from your seed,
Master of Troubadours....