Ibrahim Ferrer was literally born into music– his mother gave birth to him at a dance in his hometown of San Luis, Cuba, in 1927. Orphaned at the age of 12, he sold fruit and sang on the streets for money and ultimately found his way into bands that played in the nearby major city of Santiago. The region around Santiago is widely thought to be the home of the bolero song style, but Ferrer didn’t sing boleros with the bands and dance orchestras he joined. The style remained in the back of his mind, though, through a career that took him to Havana, where his band Los Bocucos immortalized two of Cuba’s great songs, “De Camino a la Vereda” and Faustino Oramas’ classic composition “Ay, Candela”, both uptempo son tunes miles removed from the sensual, slowly swaying rhythms and billowing melodies of the bolero.
“Una Fuerza Immensa”, from 1977, was the only bolero in his catalog until his late-life resurrection with Buena Vista Social Club, where he finally got to put his naturally rich and expressive voice to work on one of the all-time great compositions of the form, “Isolina Carillo’s “Dos Gardenias”. Looking back, it seems obvious that this man, who once accurately compared his own voice with the flavor of Eastern Cuban rum, should have had free reign to sing these songs all along.
Mi Sueño, literally “My Dream,” is an entire album of boleros and contains Ferrer’s final recordings, made in the years before his death in 2005. For a record that focuses so tightly on such a specific form, it’s remarkably varied, giving his voice complete freedom to roam through the songs. It’s the type of music I’ve come to appreciate a great deal more as I’ve grown older, free of pretense and just plain beautiful. Ferrer could have left no better goodbye to the world.
It nearly didn’t come out. Ferrer died in the midst of recording Mi Sueño, and it wasn’t until after a clutch of well-recorded demos were hunted down that the whole album could be pieced together. Another song with fellow elder statesman Rubén González on piano, “Melodias del Rio”, was added from a 1998 session with Ry Cooder, and the final tracklist runs by like a river of melody and languid, jazz-informed Cuban rhythm.
So it’s a dream fulfilled late, but thankfully the work was put in to see it through, as there are some amazing performances. “Perfidia” is stunning Cuban jazz, with expansive piano from co-producer Roberto Fonseca providing a deep, deep groove that Ferrer sinks right into. “Cada Noche Un Amor” nods to the James Bond theme, perhaps coincidentally, in its opening chords, and then dives into a Santiago slow burn, with Ferrer stretching out and just letting the song spill over the chords as the melody demands. Guitarist Manuel Galban, once the leader of vocal group Los Zafiros and long a personal favorite of mine, is right behind, trading intoxicating lead phrases with Fonseca. His brief solo is gorgeous.
My favorite, though, is “Copla Guajira”, where the tempo picks up a bit and Ferrer trades phrases with clarinetist Javier Zalbar. Galban lends his unmistakable, spindly leads, heightening the late night cool of the song. It’s wonderful to hear musicians playing in such telepathic sympathy with each other in any context, but that this was a project that so clearly meant the world to Ferrer heightens the passion just that final bit more. Newcomers to Ferrer’s music can’t really go wrong with his Nonesuch output, and this is as wonderful a place to start as any, though those seeking a bit more history would be well advised to check his volume of Escondido’s excellent Cuban Essentials series. For devotees of Cuban sounds, Mi Sueño is a dream come true in any language.
Joe Tangari, June 25, 2007
- Dos Almas (04:05)
- Si te contara (03:21)
- Melodia del rio (02:51)
- Cada noche un amor (03:20)
- Deuda (04:24)
- Uno (04:20)
- Convergencia (03:48)
- Quiereme mucho (05:13)
- Perfidia (04:08)
- Copla Guajira (03:39)
- Quizas, Quizas (04:03)
- Alma Libre (03:22)
Duration : 46:34 | Bitarte : 320 kBit/s | Year : 2007 | Size : 100 mb