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Online Akustik Travels

Cuban Guitars - part 3

by Claude Samard Polikar
Photo of Compay Segundo with Ry Cooder from Wim Wender's 1999 documentary: Buena Vista Social Club

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The Buena Vista Social Club's success, soundtrack of Wim Wenders documentary, is mainly due to the unusual combination of two talented artists: Ry Cooder (musician-talent scout-promoter) and a 90 year-old Cuban guitarist/singer/performer, Compay Segundo. The title track "Chan Chan", based on a traditional vocal/guitar interplay performance, has made it possible for guitarists worldwide to learn more about Cuba's musical traditions.

Our stay in Cuba has almost reached an end. The solo parts still linger in our heads, as easily remembered as a vocal melody. But these solos interest us for more reasons than one. Their form of expression is totally lyrical, melodic, even though they are entirely improvised and not technically over-sophisticated. They also tell you how a latin rhythm works, the anticipation mechanism of the groove, with a touch of jazz all the while preserving its authentic qualities. You can really feel how much jazz is part of the island's culture, a part of the style, as strong as the Spanish harmonic heritage.

Here's the last pattern of rhythms you can use for your demos or practice tracks to play your own "cuban" improvs. If you have a sequencer, you can easily put together a shaker, bongo and cowbell loop. The rhythm of the latter will give you that Carribean flavour, where cultures are so mingled, in this case with a zest of reggae, Yay Man! The rhythms have interconnected in such a fashion, from Louisiana to the shores of Venezuela, giving birth to the sophisticated rhythms of the Carribean, along with their incomparable melodic and harmonic styles. The second guitar completes the first, but not played in an anticipated fashion, on the contrary, more like a cabassa or a bongo beat, in between beats.


Music connoisseurs will certainly find this first part of the millenium full of musical diversity. Each "tribe" bears his own musical style, from Techno to Rap, even the World Music outsiders whose stars have long since migrated from the "folklore" record store shelves to the "regular" ones. And so, the Compay Segundo albums can now be found right by the Beyonce and U2 hits of this world. An incredible fate for this guitarist who lived through the entire century, freed from the US blockade thanks to an American guitarist, who became interested in a music that survives solely on the will of it's performers. The success of this recording, thanks to Ry Cooder and Compay Segundo, reminds us that there is an alternative (or an addition) to the pleasures you may find in a "do it yourself" track such as modern technology has given us the opportunity to create: two guitars and a voice is such a simple combination that one tends to forget it entirely.