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Americas Ibrahim Ferrer nominated for the Americas category

Ibrahim Ferrer (Cuba)

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There's a fairytale quality to the story of Ibrahim Ferrer's late-flowering career that is almost corny. Of all the colourful characters propelled into the spotlight by the astonishing Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon, he's probably held in the greatest affection by his fans. And the recent loss or final retirement of several of his contemporaries has only underlined how cherished he is.

Ferrer was born in 1927 near Cuba's far-eastern city of Santiago. He first cut his teeth there with a band called Jóvenes del Son after an impoverished youth spent selling sweets and popcorn on the street, having become an orphan at 12. By 1955 he was singing with the city's top group, Orquesta Chepín-Chóven, and had his first hit, "El Platanal de Bartolo". Unfortunately the tune was released without his name on it, and bad luck seemed to dog much of his career as a singer.

Even after moving to Havana, he found himself continually sidelined, forced to sing upbeat material that he didn't feel suited him, or simply passed over in favour of other singers. Though at one stage he even sang with the great Beny Moré, Ferrer never quite gained the recognition he so richly deserved, and by 1991 found himself in disillusioned retirement. "I was always left in the shadows. I felt loved by the audience, but not by my colleagues", he recalls.

So naturally, producer and musician Juan de Marcos Gonzáles had a tough job persuading him to go back into a studio when he came to call one fateful day in 1996. Fortunately he succeeded and Ferrer's resulting performance on the Buena Vista Social Club's eponymous and only CD propelled him to levels of fame and fortune he had only ever dreamt of. His subsequent debut solo album has sold over 1.6 million copies, and though the 2003 follow-up Buenos Hermanos has only just passed the quarter million mark, that shouldn't worry him.

"Now my turn has come … the curse that I carried has been lifted," the singer remarks with bittersweet satisfaction.

Jon Lusk, November 2003

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