Ibrahim Ferrer

The 1997 film BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB, which was a huge success, saw a Cuban singer rise to stardom. The Grammy-winning album Buena Vista Social Club, as well as a documentary with the same title, saw Ibrahim Ferrer rise from poverty and obscurity to international fame. His mother gave birth to him on February 20, 1927. Ferrer, who was 12 years old at the time, was an orphan and survived by selling newspapers and street produce. At 14 he joined his cousin’s vocal group Los Jovenes del Son. He continued his singing career with other acts such as Conjunto Sorpresa and Maravilla de Beltran. Ferrer also sang with Electo Rosell’s jazz group La Orquesta Chepin Choven. With whom he recorded the regional hit 1955 “El Platanal de Bartolo”. Ferrer also sang with Pacho Alonso’s Santiago-based Los Bocucos, who moved to Havana in 1959 after the Cuban Revolution. Ferrer remained with Alonso for more than three decades. During that time, Ferrer proved himself to be a superb bolero singer and a master of uptempo guarachas. The Revolution’s first months promised a new way to live and expanded musical horizons. Los Bocucos toured Europe in 1962 on the invitation from the Communist Party. Ferrer also met the Soviet premier Nikita Khruschev while in Moscow. The Cuban Missile Crisis conspired with Ferrer to leave the bandmembers stranded in Moscow for days. They remained there until the blockade was lifted. Ferrer returned to Cuba and found the country devastated by poverty. He and Carida moved their 11 children to the poor Havana district, Los Stiltos. Here he resumed his singing career, but also looked for odd jobs to help keep the family afloat. Ferrer discovered the silver lining, stating that music was not as lucrative in Cuba after American tourists were banned from visiting the country. “There was greater connection between the musicians, the Cuban audience, and the musicians.” Ferrer, however, retired from performing after a 1991 Chilean tour of Los Bocucos. Ferrer lived on a meager state pension and wore shining shoes to earn additional money. Buena Vista Social Club was born out of conversations between Juan de Marcos Gonzalez, a Cuban musician, and Ry Cooder (a virtuoso American guitar player), who are both avid fans of Latin-American music. Gonzalez suggested that Cooder hire Ferrer when he visited Cuba in 1996 to find additional musicians. The now-69-year old singer was so impressed that he agreed to return to retirement to perform with Compay Segundo, an 89-yearold guitarist, and Ruben Gonzalez (a pianist 77 years). In 1997, the album was released and sold over 4 million copies. It made Ferrer famous worldwide as a musician. The cover featured Ferrer in the flat golfer’s hat that became his trademark. Wim Wenders, a filmmaker, followed Cooder to Havana in 1999 for a documentary also called Buena Vista Social club. The film’s star was Ferrer, who became the self-produced and self-titled 1999 solo album that sold nearly two million copies. In 2003, Buenos Hermanos was released as a follow-up. Ferrer, who had just completed a European tour, died in Havana from multiple organ failure on August 6, 2005.

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