Cuban musician Pablo Milanes says he chose to play in Miami this summer for the first time because it is home to so many Cubans and Latin Americans. Yet for years, he had stayed away from the city for precisely the same reason.
Miami is a hub for exiles critical of Cuban artists who receive the backing of their government, as Milanes has, because money from their tours goes to support the Cuban government's coffers, and because the government exerts strict control over who is allowed to perform outside the island.
He has performed many times in the U.S. during his 5-decade career but never in Florida.
While Milanes acknowledged plenty of folks in Miami might still oppose his performance on Aug. 27, he believes times are changing.
"Many have also demonstrated that they want to hear Cuban artists, just as we want the exchange with Cuban artists there," he told The Associated Press from Madrid, where he is currently touring.
Milanes said he was invited to play anywhere in Florida, but he chose Miami.
"I thought it would be more interesting," he said. "It's the first time I go. I really don't have any idea what going to happen."
Milanes' Miami concert is part of a larger U.S. tour beginning in Washington on Aug. 25. Other stops are Puerto Rico, New York and San Francisco.
In April, a South Florida concert featuring Cuban performers was canceled following complaints by Cuban exiles, but Milanes said he was not worried.
Milanes is one of the founders of the Cuban musical movement known as Nuevo Trova, a folk music that came of age in the late 1960s and 1970s that is linked to Fidel Castro's Cuban revolution and protest movements across Latin America. He has recorded dozens of albums and counts millions of fans across the globe, making him one of Cuba's most famous musicians abroad.
The two-time Grammy winner has often criticized Cuban policies even as he maintains support for the 1959 revolution and the island's government. He reiterated Wednesday that Cubans' freedom of expression is limited and that he believes public criticism of the political system should be encouraged, not stifled, in order to improve it.
Milanes also acknowledged that other Cuban artists self-censor for fear of reprisal from the government, although he said he has never done so.
Milanes said he continues to believe socialism is a more humane and just system than capitalism.
"However, the defects of socialism as it has been conducted until now have demonstrated the opposite," he said.
Asked what inspires his music these days, the 68-year-old Milanes was blase.
"Over the years, inspiration becomes linked to the job, and when one can balance the muse, the spiritual and the work, the job becomes much easier," he said.
What does still inspire Milanes is his audience.
"To interact with an audience is the maximum," he said. "That is my dream, to never stop performing."