The Cuban Icon Compay Segundo: his music and legacy.
As the US starts lifting the embargo on Cuba and relationships start to improve after decades of stagnant communications, the eyes of Latin America and the world are once again on the country, with tourism skyrocketing. I guess questions in people´s minds are how will the small island react to an invasion of companies, whether people will be allowed Freedom to leave and go back to the country, what will happen with the Cuban immigrants in the USA and whether the wet feet, dry policy will still stand. (The policy states that anyone who fled from Cuba and entered the United States is allowed to seek residency a year later.) and many more questions which answers will have a lot of consequences for years to come and consequences which will probably extend to Central and South America.
At the same time as these political, sociological and economic matters are being pondered there are also some of us who wonder what will happen to Cuba´s culture, tradition and especially its music and musicians? I hope they are able to withstand what is coming and I hope in 10 years it is not filled with boy/girl bands singing in Spanglish and making “produced” groups famous, I hope they still produce the same amazing musicians for many centuries to come!
And perhaps there is none more famous worldwide, at least for the past two decades, than Compay Segundo and the other members of Buena Vista Social Club. I will probably write about Omara Portuondo and Ibrahim Ferrer (because they are my personal favorites) but Compay is the most famous of all, and with good reason.
‘Chan Chan’ – Compay Segundo
This is his most famous composition. It is one of those songs that is recognizable around the world. Máximo Francisco Repilado Muñoz A.K.A “Compay Segundo” was born on November 18th, 1907 in Siboney, a province in Cuba, a region known for its “son” music and songwriters. He was born into a family with no musical background. He started training as a barber and working also for the tobacco industry. At the same time he started learning to play the guitar and he also invented his own instrument, which he called “el armónico”. He later learns musical theory and also how to play the clarinet.
Guantanamera – Compay Segundo
With his armonico he started to make his first appearances in commercial radio with his own compositions. Then he joins different groups and starts hanging out with the musicians in Habana, and later records for RCA Victor. Then he joins “Conjunto Matamoros” where he meets Benny Moré. They became great friends and gig partners. At this time Compay also worked for a tobacco company, eventually retiring after 18 years of hard work to dedicate himself exclusively to music. Around 1994 he travels to Spain and from then on he starts traveling worldwide. Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Holland, Belgium, England, Switzerland, Austria, Turkey, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Japan.
Lágrimas negras – Compay Segundo
By 1996 he signs exclusively for Warner in Spain and got to sing for Pope Jean Paul Second in the Vatican and also for Fidel Castro´s birthday. The man became a legend, and if you have not seen it already then I recommend you watch this great documentary.
Company died in 2003. Leaving an entire continent (all of Latin America) mourned him. He left records, duets, his armonico and that Cuban feel that he was such a great ambassador for. It is a privilege to listen to him, to dance to his music, to toast rum in his health…there will not be another Segundo.