“Who would have guessed it would finally be my turn?” wrote Ibrahim Ferrer on the album sleeve of his second solo album, Buenos Hermanos.
A Cuban singer of wiry build and debonair comportment, Ferrer was 75 at the time of the album’s release, in 2003. It was, indeed, finally his turn: after a breakout performance in Buena Vista Social Club — both the 1997 album, produced by Ry Cooder, and the 1999 film, directed by Wim Wenders — he’d revitalized a long-dormant career, only now on a global scale.
Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer, his long-overdue solo debut, formally made the case, matching his slanted-sunbeam tenor with vintage Cuban atmosphere. For Buenos Hermanos, Ferrer recorded again at the historic Egrem Studios in Havana with Cooder, who brought in some notable outside touches: ace drummer Jim Keltner, ambient trumpeter Jon Hassell, The Blind Boys of Alabama.
Still, the album was a muscular showcase for the authority that Ferrer wore ever so lightly, singing in a manner either frisky or florid. And it was deep-rooted in Cuban musical tradition, without getting hung up about strict fealty to a style.
Cooder has just remixed and remastered the album for the newly-relaunched World Circuit label. Out today in a special edition — on streaming services, on CD, and as a double LP — the new Buenos Hermanos includes four previously unissued tracks from the recording sessions, including this version of “Me Voy pa' Sibanicú.”
“I was amazed to revisit this thing,” says Cooder, in an email. “It’s so vital, the vitality is right there. What we did was we gave it some horsepower… you know, get some gas in the tank, for heaven’s sake. Jam it. Like if you went to a concert and heard this live, it would sound like this, that’s more the approach.”
Cooder plays guitar and laoud on the track, which also includes several musicians from the Buena Vista Social Club: pianist Manuel Galbán, bassist Orlando “Cachaíto” López, percussionist Miguel “Angá” Díaz, and Cooder’s son Joachim on drums.
Ferrer sounds jubilant on the song, which was written and separately recorded by Faustino Oramas, the Trova and guaracha singer better known as El Guayabero. (Oramas graces a track on Buenos Hermanos, but not this one.) The picaresque lyrics paint a picture of everyday misfortune — for several verses, it’s literally a “dog bites man” story — that Ferrer infuses with lighthearted wit. As the music fades, you get the distinct sense that this jam probably kept going for a while.
Buenos Hermanos earned Ferrer his first and only individual Grammy award, for Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album. It received largely favorable coverage but failed to break through commercially on the same level as Ferrer’s first album, which was certified Gold.
Cooder, in an introduction to the reissue, loosely attributes this underperformance to a pair of bad omens at the time: the start of the Iraq War and the closure of the Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. “You didn’t have to think too long and hard to realize that the world was grinding along in a convergence that was going to be bad news for everyone, including Ibrahim,” he writes.
You don’t have to buy that logic to agree with Cooder’s suggestion that this music sounds better than ever. Ferrer died two years after the release of Buenos Hermanos. His voice, ringing out on the album, couldn’t sound more alive.
Buenos Hermanos is available now on World Circuit Records.