It is with great sadness that we have learned of the passing of Compay Segundo, who died at his home in Havana, Cuba aged 95. Compay was a music legend who provided a vital link with Cuba’s musical history and was still making music full of passion, wit and energy in his nineties.
Although achieving international recognition through the Buena Vista Social ClubTM album released in 1997 and the subsequent Wim Wenders film of the same name, Compay Segundo had been writing and performing his own compositions since the age of 15. In addition to his abundant musical talent, Compay also invented his own instrument which he called an armónico. This instrument, which is a cross between a guitar and a Cuban tres, was used by Compay throughout his career.
Born Francisco Repilado in Santiago in 1907, he picked up the nickname whilst performing with Lorenzo Hierrezuelo as Los Compadres in the 1940s. Compay was slang for compadre (friend) while Segundo referred to his trademark bass harmony second voice. In 1956 he formed “Compay Segundo y sus Muchachos”and kept the group going, recruiting his son Salvador on double bass.
In 1997 a number of pioneering Cuban musicians were brought together for what would become the phenomenally successful Buena Vista Social ClubTM album. Compay was a key figure in the group and prominently featured in the historical live dates that followed. Wim Wenders’ film that accompanied the tour revealed Compay’s sense of humour, zest for life and the mischievous glint he had in his eyes. Album producer Ry Cooder said of him at the time, “The last of the best, the oracle, the source, the one who represents where it all flows from.”
Compay’s final album, the 2001 release Las Flores de la Vida (Flowers of Life) was met with critical acclaim, a fitting finale to the career of such a well loved and highly regarded performer.
World Circuit’s Nick Gold sums up the thoughts of many: “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Francisco Repilado, Compay Segundo, amongst the very last of the great pioneers and craftsmen of 20th century popular Cuban music. A unique and charming man who overflowed with talent, artistry and a vital life force. It was an honour and a privilege to have known him.”
The following statements are from Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo regarding the sad loss of their friend Compay Segundo:
“Para mí Compay ha sido un hombre de un talento único, un gran creador , una gran figura. Todavía le siento cerca con su instrumento , tocando para todos nosotros . Ahora inevitablemente su ausencia nos deja un enorme vacío , no solo a músicos sino a un país entero y a gran parte del mundo que lo pudo ver y escuchar
Él fue, es y será una persona muy querida y un valor fundamental para nuestra cultura Cubana y del mundo. Compay fue el primero, y siempre será para mi el mejor.”
“Compay was a man of unique talent, a huge creator and an outstanding figure. I can still feel him so close, playing his instrument for us all. Now, his absence inevitably leaves us with this feeling of emptiness, not just to us musicians, but to a whole country and to all those around the world who ever had the chance to watch and listen to him.
He was, is and will be a beloved human being and of essential value to Cuba’s and the world’s culture. Compay was number one, and will always be the best for me.”
"La pérdida es irreparable. Compay era el eterno joven. Tenía un carácter jovial, ameno, lleno de optimismo y decisión. Es admirable todo lo que hizo en favor de nuestra cultura. Su trabajo constante, su dedicación de toda la vida. Si alguien nos contara que una persona de más de noventa años está hechizando al mundo entero con su música, no le creeríamos. Y es totalmente cierto. Su recuerdo y su ejemplo quedarán por siempre en nuestra memoria. Confío en que el mundo también lo recuerde por siempre".
“This is a great loss. Compay was the eternal youngster. He had this cheerful, pleasant spirit, all optimism and decision. What he did for our culture is just admirable, constant work and a lifetime’s dedication. If someone were to tell you that a guy in his nineties was enchanting the whole world through his music, you would not believe it, but it was completely true. We shall always keep his memory and his example. I hope the world remembers him forever.”