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Cuban Music Lesson: Ibrahim Ferrer

Get ready to be schooled, asere. It’s time for a Cuban music lesson! Learn to tell your cha cha cha from your mambo without leaving your couch. Put on your dancing shoes, guayaberas, park your 57 Chevy, light up that Habano, and pay attention.

Being an artist sucks. You work your butt off for pennies in the desperate hope that one day someone will pay attention to you. People like the Biebs make it big at a young age. Most of the time, people never make it at all. In the case of Ibrahim Ferrer, he became an internationally renowned singer in his seventies. Better late than never, right?

Ibrahim was literally born to dance, or rather he was born at a dance. His mother went into labor while dancing a rumba at a club in Santiago de Cuba. His mom died when he was 12 and Ibrahim had to sing on the streets to make money. His voice was too good for the sidewalks and he soon hooked up with Conjunto Sorpresa and moved to Havana. Ibrahim was well known during the golden age of Cuban music in the 40’s and 50’s, often opening up for Benny More. During the 60’s and 70’s, traditional Cuban music became unfashionable in Cuba. Afro-Cuban music’s bastard son salsa became all anyone wanted to listen to. There was little call for a crooner like Ibrahim in a salsa band. So, poor Ibrahim fell into obscurity.

Then, in 1997 Ry Cooder came to Havana to do an album of old school Cuban music. He started asking around for a lead singer, and was told about Ibrahim. At the time, Ibrahim was working as a shoe shine boy…well, not boy…shoe shine old fart. Cooder brought Ibrahim in to the studio and couldn’t believe what came out of his mouth. The album that they would produce was The Buena Vista Social Club, one of the most influential Cuban music albums in history. Cooder would later produce three albums that featured Ibrahim, all of which went multi-platinum. In 2000 Ibrahim won a best new artist Grammy…at the age of 72. He even appeared on the cartoon rock band The Gorillaz first album. When Ibrahim died in 2005 he was buried with national honors in El Cementerio Colon in Havana. Even Fidel came, (probably for the free food).

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