Music

Cuba's Ibrahim Ferrer Is Celebrated with a Re-Issue of 'Buenos Hermano'

Photo: Christien Jaspars / Courtesy of Sacks & Co.

A remixed reissue of Ibrahim Ferrer's Buenos Hermanos brings one of Cuba's most iconic voices back into the spotlight.

Buenos Hermanos
Ibrahim Ferrer

World Circuit

28 February 2020

The 1997 release of Buena Vista Social Club was, for many non-Cubans in the world, a groundbreaking first encounter with Cuban music. Time and time again, the album is cited as instrumental in sparking foreign interest in Cuban and, more broadly, Latin American popular music releases. Whether such should be the case is debatable; after all, Buena Vista Social Club, for all the work it has done abroad, hardly represents Cuban music as a whole. With that said, there's no question of its high profile at a particularly climactic point in the world music market. There's also no doubt that for many, the voice of Ibrahim Ferrer served as a guide into a new sonic world, one awash in jazz and encircled by the Caribbean Sea.

By the time Buena Vista Social Club came out, Ferrer was 70; before his death in 2005, he recorded two more albums for World Circuit, including 2003 release Buenos Hermanos. Now, a new reissue sees the final Ferrer album (except for those released after his death) remixed, reordered, and bolstered by four previously unreleased tracks from the original recording sessions, all at the hands of Ry Cooder himself.

Ferrer's voice is as beautiful an instrument here as with the Club, rising and soaring, weathered with age but still pitch-perfect and full of light. That is no surprise, of course; nor is the musicianship that surrounds him, on warm brass, African-derived drums, tropical guitars, and sparkling piano. The music here is very much of the ilk that Buena Vista Social Club made the world fall in love with, the prototypical sounds that evoke imaginaries of a Cuban cultural golden age most of its listeners could never really have known.

It's hard to say why the missing tracks - "Me Voy Pa Sibanicú", "Ojos Malvados", "Mujer", and "Ven Conmigo Guajira" - were left off of the original mix; Cooder calls them "overlooked for some reason". Perhaps it was for length. Perhaps it was for ease of production. It certainly was not for lack of fit or quality. Here, those tracks are interwoven carefully into the sequence, extending the vision in beautiful ways. Slow track "Mujer" is particularly beautiful, with a sparse guitar introduction that has Morricone soundtrack undertones and a singularly wistful vocal line for Ferrer. There's a 1970s soul feel to "Ven Conmigo Guajira", an emphasis on upbeat keys and a beat you can walk down sun-drenched city streets to. The title track, though, is an evergreen jewel of swirling reeds, psychedelic organ, and sharp rhythms, all backing the chorus uplifting Ferrer's lead.

Iconic voices like Ferrer's tend to become stale, especially given the ubiquity of his work outside of Cuba. There will be plenty of people who don't see much need to hear it again. There will be more who are ready to revisit the fantasy Cuba he represents, a blend of earth and fire, sensual and soulful. Whether or not his specific sound ever represented Cuba in any realistic way, Ferrer's venerability and vitality at the time of World Circuit's Cuban releases established him as perhaps the embodiment of Cuban big-band jazz for outsiders. His legacy is an important one in the history of Latin American musical flows. More subjectively, his voice is a beautiful one to behold and always has been. Buenos Hermanos' return - coming, along with other reissues, in celebration of BMG's acquisition of World Circuit - brings a timelessly brilliant performer back into the spotlight.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.