July 12 2002

Compay Segundo: Duets

By Pablo de Sainz

Cuban music —all aspects of cuban music: bolero, salsa, trova- has the ability to move you; move your heart, move your mind, move your feet, move your body.

Even with a U.S.-Led embargo the beautiful island, Cuba hasn’t stopped exporting musicians and singers who have given this Caribbean island, a name and a privileged place in world music today.

The great Compay Segundo, who is 95-years-old, is one of the most famous, innovative cuban singers and musicians working today. Wearing his small hat, a cuban cigar in his mouth, and a beautiful, cultivating smile on his face, Compay Segundo presents us with his newest album “Duets” (Dro East West, 2002), a compilation of 16 duets Compay Segundo has recorded throughout time with other voices as diverse as gemres there are.

The album as a whole, is a tour-de-force, a great introduction to the world of Cuban son and trova. From track one to track 16, there’s a link among all songs: The smooth sound of the acoustic guitar with the husky voice of Compay Segundo.

“Duets” is composed of different genres, but no matter what rhymes, the songs include a touch that make them uniquely Company. Trova, boleros, and sones are included in this interesting album.

The first song, and for me the most experimental, is “Saludo a Changó.” This old Afro-cuban melody, is modernized and given a new Arabic sound by Khaled, the Algerian singer who is part of the duet with Compay Segundo. Khaled unifies two distinct worlds, and make them into one, creating harmony between Arab and Cuban music, Arabian and Spanish languages. The two tongues mix, and at the end, complement each other. Khaled also included instruments used in Arab music in “Saludo a Changó.”

One of the most romantic melodies in the album is “Fidelidad,” where Compay Segundo shares his voice with that of Trova King Silvio Rodriguez. The lyrics in “Fidelidad” are sensual, and tell of a lover who is still faithful to a long gone lover who will never come back.

“Macusa” is a moving song sang by Compay and another trovador, Pablo Milanés. The guitar changes tempo several times, creating a roller coaster worth riding several times.

One of the most interesting pieces in “Duets” is the 1950 song, “Tente en Pie”. This song is from the era when Compay Segundo belonged to the duet “Los Compadres”, together with Lorenzo Hierrezuelo. According to Cuban critic, Luis Lázaro, “Those who had the chance to enjoy this group back in the forties and fifties, say they have never heard such two voices complement each other so well”. That is truly captured in “Tente en Pie”.

The two songs that might seem out of place in the album are “Baby Keep Smiling” with Lou Bega, the Mambo Number 5, one-hit wonder, Lou Bega, and Spanish actor and sex symbol, Antonio Banderas. The first one is the only track in English, and it might as well not be included in “Duets”. But the second one, “Beautiful Maria of My Soul”, a bolero, tells us Banderas is better as a singer than as an actor.

“Duets” is a walk in Compay Segundo’s career. Segundo won a Grammy for his participation with Buena Vista Social Club. Compay Segundo, the Cuban viejito who is 95, is a treasure from an island that has given the world such a rich music history.

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