Compay Segundo, the veteran Cuban guitarist-singer who won international recognition late in life as part of the Buena Vista Social Club, died Saturday of kidney failure at his home in Havana. He was 95.
The musician, whose rise from oblivion to global popularity via the Ry Cooder-produced record and Wim Wenders film helped make traditional Cuban music known worldwide, will be buried today in his native Santiago in eastern Cuba. He is the first member of the Social Club to die.
The 1997 Grammy-winning record “Buena Vista Social Club” brought back into the limelight a group of talented musicians, all over the age of 60, who had all but been forgotten in Cuba. Act included Segundo, pianist Ruben Gonzalez and singers Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo. He recorded three solo albums following “Social Club’s” success.
Born in Siboney, outside Santiago, Compay enjoyed a second youth traveling around the world entertaining audiences with a repertoire topped by his best-known song, “Chan Chan.” He gave concerts until May this year, when his health deteriorated.
Compay began composing music in his teens and playing in groups with the “armonico,” a seven-string guitar he developed to increase the harmony of the Cuban “son,” a traditional musical form and forerunner of today’s salsa.
In the 1940s and ’50s, Compay played with well-known Cuban musicians such as Miguel Matamoros and Benny More. After Castro came to power in 1959, many old-time musicians were swept aside by the new folk music of a communist society. Com-pay hung up his guitar and worked at a cigar factory in Havana.