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Cirque Du Soleil
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Patricia Barber
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Jim Pearce
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Time Line
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Julius Curcio
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Alligator Shoes
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"Come Alive"
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Spotlights [Issue # 3 ]
Ibrahim Ferrer: Cigars, Grammy, Guarachas, and Boleros

By Ken Micallef

A voice like this we won't see again," says Ry Cooder regarding Buena Vista Social Club singer Ibrahim Ferrer. "Ibrahim must surely be one of the most effective singers I've ever heard. It's so difficult these days to find this kind of inner voice that comes through this humble exterior. He’s completely open. The improvisation and the spontaneity of his phrasing is like a very intricate jazz solo. But he's also the master of the bolero. Now most people can do either one or the other. He can do both."

After the success of Buena Vista and various solo efforts from that legendary Cuban band, Cooder presents Ibrahim Ferrer to an adoring public ready for more simmering guarachas, sones and boleros. Like a gorgeous fossil frozen in time but still alive for the ages, the Buena Vista musical logo has become a global sensation - and Ferrer is their acknowledged star. Ferrer’s debut solo recording, Buena Vista Social Club presents Ibrahim Ferrer, has sold 1.5 million copies and spread his fame from Tokyo, Japan to Joplin, Missouri.

Buenos Hermanos showcases an amazing singer at the peak of his powers - and the apex of his extraordinary life. Its bubbling, contagious music is even more vibrant and passionate than Buena Vista, but then, Ferrer and company have had a few years to regain the power of their 1950s peak.

A former shoeshine boy, Ferrer has met everyone from Bruce Willis to Fidel Castro. He has sung with Gorillaz and Orchestra Boabab. He’s won the Grammy. He still smokes massive Cuban cigars, but he no longer lives in a cramped and dingy Havana apartment. Most importantly, Ferrer’s voice – equal parts romantic paean to another age and contemporary voice of a nearly lost style - is at an absolute stylistic peak. Surrounded by Cooder and Manual Galban’s guitars, Jim Keltner’s drums, Guajiro’s trumpet and Cachaito Lopez’s bass, Ferrer soars on Buenos Hermanos. The music is magic, moving from atmospheric ballads to righteous large band blowouts to romantic barrio grooves. To the previous musicians, Cooder enlists pianist Chucho Valdes, trumpeter Jon Hassell and the Blind Boys of Alabama. Though grounded in Cuban tradition, this music is full of risks, from Cooder’s solos to Keltner’s oddball drumming. But what holds it all together is Ferrer’s voice. When he begins to belt, nothing else matters. On “Perfume de Gardenias” the Blind Boys replace Ferrer's regular Cuban chorus; the Blind Boys adding a more subtle backing to the master vocalist’s heavenly croon. “Mil Congojas” features the band backed by a string orchestra. Ferrer simply stuns here, and will transport you from any condition you inhabit to a world of waves, beauty and hot sun. “Hay Que Entrale a Palo a Ese” fires the imagination with a large percussion ensemble and Ferrer’s Busta Rhymes worthy delivery. Buenos Hermanos is too lofty and sublime for words; it must be experienced.

“After six years of messing around with these Cubans,” Cooder told Nigel Williamson, “we've all learned to work together in the most amazing way. I hope that people carry [this] around and play it in their car because it's just so beautiful.

“The market's been flooded with Latin records in the last six years. Go to the megastore and the Cuban section is now bigger than the whole African section. We’re drowning in this stuff. But you don’t have many opportunities to do something like this. I think it is as great a Latin record as has ever been made. From the humble man who came back and re-emerged into the modern world, now Ibrahim is at the head of the class. I don’t think anybody else would or could make a record like this. And I think he really likes it.”

In Ibrahim Ferrer’s words: “I don’t want you to think I say this with pride, but I’m happy, I’m here and I’m fighting!”

Buenos Hermanos

Cigars, Grammy, Guarachas, and Boleros Ibrahim Ferrer Buenos Hermanos

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