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Compay Segundo

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Biography

Compay Segundo (November 18, 1907 – July 13, 2003), was a Cuban musician and songwriter.

Segundo was born Máximo Francisco Repilado Muñoz and brought up in the city of Santiago de Cuba. He became a songwriter and performer, well-known to fans of Cuban music. He was also the inventor of the armónico, a seven-stringed guitar-like instrument.

In his early years he played the guitar, the clarinet and the bongos. He also played the congas.

His curious stage name derives from the fact that he played second voice in a popular duet of the 1950s called Los Compadres (compadre, or compay for short, in Cuba means “baptism brother”, but as a colloquialism is used also to designate a good friend).

However, international fame only came in 1997 with the release of the Buena Vista Social Club album, a hugely successful recording which won several Grammy awards. Compay Segundo appeared in the film of the same title, made subsequently by Wim Wenders.

His most famous composition is “Chan Chan”, the opening track on the Buena Vista Social Club album, whose four opening chords are instantly recognizable all over the world. “Chan Chan” was recorded by Segundo himself various times as well as by countless other Latin artists.

At a fiesta he sang to Presidente Fidel Castro, who took his pulse and joked about his vitality despite his 90-plus years. “Who could have imagined that?” he asked when he found himself at the Vatican City, performing “Chan Chan” before Pope John Paul II. He explained his longevity simply: mutton consommé and a drink of rum.

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