What were you doing in 1920? Yeah, me neither. Compay Segundo (pictured) was cooling out, playing his clarinet in the Santiago de Cuba municipal band. In the late 1920s, he invented the armonico, a seven-stringed hybrid of a Spanish guitar and a Cuban tres. He still plays the instrument today, while singing songs of yearning in his trademark low harmonies.
Segundo went on to play a crucial role in the development of the son musical tradition, and he's responsible for nearly a century's worth of great Cuban music with bands such as El Conjunto Matamaros, Los Compadres and Compay Segundo y sus Muchachos.
After the Castro revolution, Segundo worked as a cigar roller before returning to music in the 1980s. He catapulted to international stardom with the 1997 release of Buena Vista Social Club and released his U.S. debut (Lo Mejor de la Vida) the following year. His new album, Calle Salud, features another ample serving of mellow son grooves and a reworked version of his signature song, "Chan Chan."
It seems quaint that, as he enters his ninth decade as a professional musician, the 93-year-old Segundo is making just his second tour of the United States. When he appears at the North Carolina Museum of Art's Bryan Theatre this Wed., Sept. 6, he'll be backed by a quartet, as well as percussionists and three clarinet players. It may not sound much different from his municipal band in the '20s, almost as if the last 75 years of Latin music--the ones that saw clarinets replaced by saxophones and trumpets--never happened at all. --Gavin O'Hara