Compay Segundo House Opens in Havana

Travel Blog  •  Jim Benning  •  11.20.06 | 9:04 AM ET


Ry Cooder’s 1997 Buena Vista Social Club album, and the Wim Wenders documentary of the same name, not only introduced millions of people to traditional Cuban music but launched thousands of visits to the island nation—and for good reason. The music on the album is at once haunting, playful and soulful. No song embodies this more, I think, than “Chan Chan,” written by Compay Segundo, the legendary Cuban musician featured prominently on the album and in the film. He died in Havana in 2003 at the age of 95, and now, his Havana home is being preserved as a tribute to him. It’s sure to become a pilgrimage site for Cuban music aficionados the world over.

Writes Doreen Hemlock in Sunday’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

The airy, Spanish-style house features color pictures of Compay with Fidel Castro, Pope John Paul II and top Cuban artists, including ballerina Alicia Alonso and singer Pablo Milanes.

His bedroom displays old family photos, including one of his mother Margarita, the daughter of slaves, and others of Compay in Cuba’s eastern province of Santiago, where he was born and raised. Plus, there are recent pictures of his grandchildren, including several in the band that bears his name and was nominated for a Latin Grammy award this year.

In the living room, a glass case displays Compay’s signature hat, suit jacket and other clothes.

Hemlock notes that Compay’s career fell on hard times after the 1959 revolution, “when the island’s traditional rhythms tended to be seen as passť.”

Looking back, it’s hard to imagine a more ominous sign that the revolution would fail Cuba in countless ways.

Fortunately, “Buena Vista Social Club” revived Compay’s musical career—it even landed him the house in question. According to Hemlock, the Cuban government granted Compay the house after the album’s success, “partly so he could welcome overseas guests.”

Now it will welcome many more.

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