Monday, November 16, 2009

Nuestro Compay

Compay Segundo
The name translates to "Second Comrade," which came from his baritone voice that came second in most songs. But don't let the name fool you, because Segundo is the first member of Buena Vista Social Club anybody should know about.

This composer / guitarrista is to traditional Cuban music as Jimi Hendrix is to rock n' roll. Segundo's playing style was so unique that he created his own instrument, a seven-string fusion of the Spanish guitar and Cuban tres known as an armonico.

Long before Fidel Castro came to power, Compay Segundo was strumming sones and danzones throughout Cuba. While Castro was studying at law school, this music legend was recording albums with Los Compadres. But it was his participation in Buena Vista Social Club that brought Segundo international success.

El sueño
"Chan Chan" is the opening track to Buena Vista Social Club. Segundo composed the four-note son, but said that it came to him in a dream. He even performed his masterpiece at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II. Instantly recognized around the world, artists' covers from Gypsy Kings to this Swiss comedy trio will ensure that this song never dies.

Fidel Castro once invited the then ninety-year old musician to perform at a fiesta. With his trademark Cuban fedora on his head and Cuban cigar in his mouth, Segundo played for the dictator whom he knew as "the new guy." Castro later took Segundo's pulse and joked about his vitality.

Vaya con Dios
Segundo eventually died in 2003 at the age of 95. Gone, but not forgotten, he was honored in 2007 with a "100 Years of Compay" celebration in Havana. So check out these videos to see how this old man plays Cuban favorites like a true guitar hero.

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