by Liz DiDonna
“As long as blood runs in my body, I’m going to love women. Because in life, women, flowers and romance are all so lovely. And one night of romance, oh, that has no price … and I haven’t yet forgotten how,” says Compay Segundo in the documentary film Buena Vista Social Club. Segundo, a legend in Cuban music history and renewed in our collective memories due to the popularity of Wim Wenders’ Buena Vista, revives us with more amor.
The Spanish language and its luscious sounds are integral to this work; the songs contain immense power through the language and rich cultural history of Cuba. Lyrics such as “Dime si tu boca, diminuto coral, pequeñito panal, es para mí” (Tell me if your mouth, coral pink, honeycomb-sweet, is mine.) Trills drop from the tongue soft as silk.
In the title track, lead singer Hugo Garzon softly rejoices, “Que linda es la vida, que lindo es el amor” (How beautiful life is, how beautiful is love).” His soulful voice cries out — longing, yearning for love lost and then shouting out in celebration of love found again. Vocal harmonies between Garzon and Segundo accompanying him are inseparable in feeling. As they play, this close-knit group of musicians becomes one entity emoting the same truth.
The track “Oui Parle Français” reveals an amalgam of cultural backgrounds within Cuba — here Compay duplicates the voices of Haitian immigrant cane cutters of the Cuban Oriente during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as he blends the French, Creole and Spanish languages.
The unequivocal Cuban rhythms are here as always, compelling our hips to sway side to side and find a partner willing to cha-cha. Segundo has gone back to his beginnings as a clarinet player by incorporating clarinets along with the more common instruments such as the guitar and bongos.
Compay, which means compadre, never seems short of smiles or staggeringly skillful arrangements of sounds. And, even in his 90s, he continues to eat, drink, breathe and sing passion.
Liz DiDonna writes about the arts for MT. Send comments to email@example.com.