The 21-album catalog of Silvio Rodríguez has been made available in digital form for the first time, thanks to a unique deal between iTunes and sDae, the digital division of the Spanish authors' and publishers' society, SGAE.

Rodríguez is recognized as the senior "comandante" of Cuba's New Trova singer/songwriter genre since its creation in 1968 revolutionary Cuba.

His albums are available exclusively on iTunes for 30 days from Oct. 16, and thereafter on other digital sites such as eMusic, Rhapsody and Napster.

Rodríguez unveiled deal in Madrid on Tuesday at an event in the HQ of the state-run Cervantes Institute, organized to present a CD homage to New Trova founder Noel Nicola, who died in 2005, and a new label called Barnasants-Canción de Autor.

Rodríguez is nominated at next month's Grammy Latino awards for best singer/songwriter album, for the double CD "Erase Que Se Era," on his own Havana-based Ojalá label. But like other nominated Cuban artists, Silvio - who is an elected member of the Cuban national assembly - is unable to attend the Nov. 8 televised award ceremony because the U.S. blockade prohibits cultural exchange visits.

"Cuba has serious physical [CD] distribution problems, and there are no digital portals on the island", Rodríguez told Billboard.biz. "Cuban labels such as EGREM, Bis Music, Ojalá or Colibrí, do not have the technical facilities that SGAE has in Spain. Everybody knows that Cuba is a musical reserve and that our music is heard around the world, but it is time for it to be heard even more widely."

Rodríguez frequently tours in Latin America and Europe, and is aware that his music is available illegally online. "I used to think 'who put that up there?, and didn't really care too much. But my brothers at SGAE persuaded me it was better to have control over where your music is placed."

The iTunes accord was signed with La Central Digital, the content aggregator and digital distributor of SGAE digital division, sDae. Its marketing director Mario Rigote tells Billboard.biz that sDae "is working on a campaign to digitalize all available Cuban music, and to open spaces on iTunes for that music. We have been trying to persuade Silvio for some time that the circumstances are right for him to take control of his music."

sDae and iTunes are in negotiations for the placement of Cuban music that is currently performed on the Caribbean island, but whose artists are not usually signed to labels because of economic limits. iTunes' 30-day exclusive use is part of the deal. Rigote says sDae has prepared a special Silvio Rodríguez campaign with a mini-site, online radio, videos, a photo gallery, promotional prepaid cards, and so on.

The albums on iTunes include Rodríguez's 1975 debut, "Días y Flores". But the New Trova movement dates from 1968 when Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés and Noel Nicola performed together at Havana's Casa de las Americas. The three troubadours helped form the famed Sound Experiment Group of the Cuban Cinema and Art Institute (ICAIC), and Nicola wrote more than 350 songs.

Rodríguez decided to arrange a homage album while Nicola was gravely ill, and in Madrid he revealed that Nicola himself chose 20 of the 37 albums on "37 Canciones de Noel Nicola" (Barnasants-Canción de Autor).

Among the artists who appear on the CD are Rodríguez, Los Van Van, Adalberto Alvarez, Pancho Amat, Leo Brouwer, Robertico Carcasés, Vicente Feliú, Sara Gonzalez, Luiba María Hevia, Pablo Milanés, Omara Portuondo, Chucho Valdés, and Carlos Varela from Cuba; Luis Eduardo Aute, Victor Manuel, Luis Pastor, Caco Senante, Ismael Serrano and Javier Ruibal from Spain. Other artists on the album are from Peru, Venezuela, Argentina and Uruguay.

The new label is a joint venture between the SGAE's own label Factoría Autor and Barcelona's Barnasants singer/songwriter festival, which was created 12 years ago. Factoría Autor director Luis Francisco García says the label will "keep alive the spirit and music of the singer/songwriter in Spain and Latin America".

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