Buena Vista's man in the Panama hat dies, aged 95

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The Independent Culture

Compay Segundo, the gnarled nonagenarian in a Panama hat who defied the music industry's obsession with teen bands to bring the traditional sound of Cuba to a world audience, has died aged 95.

The cigar-smoking frontman for the Buena Vista Social Club devoted his life to music but not until 1997 did a Grammy award thrust him and the group into the international limelight. They sold four million albums worldwide.

"The flowers of life come to everyone. One has to be ready not to miss them. Mine arrived after I was 90," he said recently.

Segundo performed until May this year, when his health began to deteriorate. He died on Sunday from kidney failure. The musician will be buried in eastern Cuba, close to where he grew up.

The international success of Buena Vista Social Club's recording with Ry Cooder brought fame to a group of talented veteran musicians who had been all but forgotten in Cuba. Interest in the group increased further after the film Buena Vista Social Club directed by Wim Wenders.

Despite his great age, he continued to perform and talk lucidly of his belated fame. "I feel content, successful ... you shouldn't succumb to boredom," he said at a party in Havana to celebrate his 95th birthday.

Segundo - Maximo Francisco Repilado Muñoz - was born in 1907 in Siboney, near Santiago. He developed a unique seven-string guitar he called the "armonica", which had a doubled middle string to add harmonics for the Cuban son rhythms.