A crowd of 30 filled the Night Owl Café Tuesday night as folk singer and activist Paul Baker-Hernandez took the stage to perform.
Keene State College student Rebecca Lordan introduced the soft-spoken singer, and highlighted some of Hernandez’s most notable accomplishments.
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These accomplishments include breaking into the Queen’s private castle to protest nuclear weapons and defending Salvadoran exiles from death squads, Lordan said.
Throughout his life, Hernandez has worked with the underprivileged in Scotland, Nicaragua, and other areas of the world.
Hernandez was born in Coventry, England, which is outside Birmingham.
He currently lives in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, with his family. His wife fought in the Nicaraguan revolution in her teenage years during the late 1970s.
The couple met on delegations, helping build a free clinic and a law center that defended the rights of the people, Hernandez said.
Now, every two years, Hernandez travels to the United States to perform and educate colleges, churches, and other organizations on issues he cares about most, said Margaret Walsh, professor of sociology.
Walsh, who teaches an honors course, plans to travel to Nicaragua in May to take part in service projects and study the culture.
Walsh met Hernandez in 2007 while on a trip in Nicaragua and has seen firsthand the environmental efforts that his wife and partners have worked on.
Walsh asked Hernandez to serve as a guide for the class trips.
“Paul’s life experiences in Nicaragua enlighten the curriculum,” Walsh said.
“Paul’s songs indicate he believes we’re one world. It’s important for students to see different viewpoints and make comparisons between North America and South America.”
At the age of 30, Hernandez started playing guitar while taking part in a silent monk convent.
Inspired by folk singers Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, Hernandez said he made a guitar out of garbage and decided to leave the monastery for good.
Dylan inspired a call to activism with the song “Blowing in the Wind,” Hernandez said. “Dylan asked a lot of important questions in that song, questions I still don’t think we’ve answered today,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez’s songs and performances allow him to educate and engage the crowd on political issues.
Through this performance at Keene State College, Hernandez was able to shed light on multiple issues such as human pollution, anti-war sentiment, Latin American nationalism, and the ills of capitalism.
“We are so deafened by consumerism,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez’s songs blend serious issues with humorous overtones; lyrics shed light on Starbucks, certain “S.O.B’s,” and his frustrations with society’s dependency on cell phones. When discussing environmental issues, Hernandez referred back to how he built his guitar with old tables, desk tops, and even a toilet seat, at the monastery. Through Hernandez’s own life experiences he was able to show how humans don’t need to waste natural resources. “People are dying, as well as the forests,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez’s songs also encompass themes of fair trade, imperialism, and the use of Coltan in electronic devices, fueling the current conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
However, Hernandez draws inspiration from famous Latin American revolutions and icons, not just the issues that plague society. During his performance, Hernandez quoted famous Latin American revolutions and icons. Before playing a song about love, Hernandez quoted Cuban revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara saying, “At the risk of sounding ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by feelings of love.”
However, Che Guevara’s spirit is not only captured in Hernandez’s songs; corporations also sell Che’s image on T-shirts, a notion that contradicts the singer’s ideals.
Even though Hernandez said he thinks it is ironic that corporations sell this image, he wears it.
“I wear his image because I agree with his ideas. But it’s the same concept that happened with Dylan. The mainstream businesses try to capitalize off of them, but Che’s legacy is too big to be trapped by that.”
Along with quoting Che, Hernandez also quoted Salvador Allende, the Chilean president who died in the 1973 military coup in Chile.
“Allende said at the end of his career that by the end of his term, he wanted every child in Chile to have milk to drink. Unfortunately, he was killed before that came true,” Hernandez said.
Not only did Allende inspire Hernandez’s lyrics, Victor Jara, a Chilean singer and political activist also served as a source of inspiration.
Jara had been tortured and killed during the same 1973 military coup that ended Chilean President Allende’s life. Hernandez said that even though Jara had died, his legacy became a symbol of justice and would live on throughout the world.
As Hernandez’s performance came to an end, he recalled a memory of when he needed a blood transfusion and fellow citizens of Nicaragua donated blood, when they themselves were struggling to survive. “I could’ve gone back to England and have gotten free care,” Hernandez said. “These people gave me their blood when they don’t even have enough food to eat. They possess a wealth we can’t even understand,” Hernandez said.
However, there is much that needs to be accomplished in order to possess this level of wealth that the citizens of Nicaragua possess.
“We all want justice, freedom, and peace. We all want love and to be loved. We need to re-balance male and female energy, give up war, and dedicate resources saved to ensure a dignified life,” Hernandez said.
Brian Rabadeau can be contacted at email@example.com