Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

January 8, 1999, Cuba Free Press.


HAVANA - They say that fashions return. That in retrospective they are better the second time around. And when fashions have anything to do with Cuba's traditional music there are many ready to happily welcome them back. That's what is happening with 91-year old troubadour Francisco Repilado, known as "Compay Segundo" to his friends and admirers.

For old Compay, the "son" (a kind of song) never left Cuba. Many musicians left but the roots remain, like the tree that was pruned and had apparently died, but whose roots are firmly planted on the ground. In the music business since he was 14, Compay Segundo is unique: Now recently turned 91, he has just reached the summit, the highest success in his career.

There's no better reward for perseverance than one day reaching our goals. Because Compay, nearly a Guiness World Record contestant, has been playing his music for 76 years and, at 91, he's still recording CD's.

Compay's success has been preceded with a lengthy service to the national cultural heritage. The funny tobacco-smoking old man, who also likes to drink a bit, has played and sung alongside the most famous celebrities on the island, the likes of Nico Saquito, Manuel Corona, Miguel Matamoros and Sindo Garay.

Originally from the region of Siboney, in Santiago province, he started with the quartet "Hatuey," with which he undertook his first tour abroad. He became a part of the "Cuban Stars" orchestra, led by the "elegant" player Nico Saquito, and took part in a film with the duo "Los Compadres."

His story has also been a part of incidents which became known throughout the country. As a member of the Santiago de Cuba Municipal Band, playing the clarinet, he interpreted the Cuban National Anthem when the Cuban flag was raised for the first time in the Capitol building, an event at which the Central Road was inaugurated.


The European public is currently the best audience for Cuban music. In a market saturated with tropical and Caribbean rhythms, the "trova-son" led by Compay Segundo represents something new. Softer to the ears, it carries a twang of captivating originality. In a time of prolific salsa players, he succeeded in attracting large audiences that wanted to hear the simple lyrics of his music.

The traditional Santiago format was supplemented by Compay Segundo with the "armonico," a 7-string instrument which, according to him, is a mix of a guitar and the tres, which "sounds somewhat different".

But Compay Segundo is not the only one attempting to rescue this style of making music in Cuba. The "Jovenes Clasicos del Son" and the group "Jelengue," are two other well-known new exponents who, with plenty of talent, are re-discovering the traditional "son" and bringing it to the music market with their own twists.

But finally, for Compay Segundo, success has smiled on him as he deserves. His tunes, "El Chan Chan," "Te Apartas De Mi" and "La Guaracha Del Toro" have become hits in Spain and France. The Spanish daily "El Pais" placed him on its list of the 10 best performers of Latin America in 1997, along with countrymen Pablo Milanes and Silvio Rodriguez.

In 1998, his tour of the United States was very successful and he recorded the album "Buenavista Social Club", for the World Circuit label in London. This album included several other international performers, whose producer was the former guitar player for the "Rolling Stones", Ry Cooder. This CD earned him a "Grammy," only the second earned by a Cuban performer. (The first one went to the "Irakeres" group several years ago.)

Without a doubt, what Compay Segundo prizes the most is his endurance in the hearts of the people. That's exactly what has happened with the French who now toast him, saying "Chan chan," the name of one of his most popular songs. Or, there's the Spanish policeman who followed him to ask him for an autograph.

By Ariel Tapia, Cuba Free Press.

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