/ 12 August 2005

Meeting with destiny

Ibrahim Ferrer, who achieved fame late in life as the singer of the Buena Vista Social Club, died last Saturday in Havana at the age of 78.

Ferrer, known for his trademark cap and greying moustache, was a devotee of traditional styles of Cuban music such as ”son” and bolero. He appeared destined to become a musician, having been born at a social club dance in 1927 after his mother went into labour unexpectedly.

He started singing at the age of 14, and by the late 1950s was a well-known performer. But by the 1990s he was scraping by on a meagre state pension, supplementing his income by shining shoes.

Then everything changed. In 1997, Ferrer was one of a group of musicians brought together by the Texas guitarist Ry Cooder to record the Buena Vista Social Club album.

The project was a huge success, earning the band a Grammy and worldwide acclaim. A documentary of the same name, directed by Wim Wenders, won an Oscar nomination.

Ferrer released two solo albums and won several more awards, including a Latin Grammy in 2000 for best new artist — at the age of 72.

Buena Vista guitarist, Manuel Galban, said of the famously mild-mannered Ferrer: ”I felt like he was my brother. He was a great musician and a great companion.”

Ferrer’s manager, Daniel Florestan, said the singer had died of multiple organ failure after returning from a month-long European tour last week.

Despite his fading health, Ferrer, who had suffered from emphysema, had continued to perform. — Â