Buena Vista pianist Gonzalez dies aged 84

Ruben Gonzalez, the pianist with Buena Vista Social Club, the band at the heart of the late-90s revival of traditional Cuban music, has died at the age of 84 after a long illness.

Ruben Gonzalez, the pianist with Buena Vista Social Club, the band at the heart of the late-90s revival of traditional Cuban music, has died at the age of 84 after a long illness.

His wife, Eneida Lima, said that Gonzalez died at his home in the Cuban capital, Havana. "He was ill for months, but remained at home," she told Reuters, adding that the pianist's health had deteriorated recently.

He had suffered from severe arthritis, as well as lung, kidney and other ailments. The cause of his death has yet to be confirmed.

Gonzalez's dazzling keyboard style provided the heartbeat of Buena Vista Social Club's recordings of "son" music - a style of early Cuban folk music built on syncopated rhythms.

US guitarist Ry Cooder - who produced the 1997 Buena Vista album and is largely credited with re-discovering the music and turning it into an international phenomenon - last saw Gonzalez two years ago.

Recalling their first meeting in 1996, Cooder told the Washington Post: "He was rusty, but great. He was this little old guy, but you could see he could still play.

"He was a very kinetic player, very high energy, and had that very animated quality that Cuban musicians have. That is very hard to get on tape: microphones don't see that kind of energy.

"Some people can play fast, some people can play loud, some people can play sad, some people can play scary, but this dancing quality, for me, has something to do with your character. He was a happy man, Ruben. Cheerful, happy, laughing."

Born in the central province of Santa Clara in 1919, Gonzalez had originally wanted to be a doctor, but enjoyed music so much that, in 1934, he began studying piano at a conservatory in the eastern city of Cienfuegos.

He moved to Havana to become a full-time musician in 1941, first recording with Arsenio Rodriguez, a pioneer in Cuban rhythm orchestras, and then joining the Orquestra de Los Hermanos.

Gonzalez later travelled and worked in Panama and Argentina before returning to Havana and playing in clubs, including the famed Tropicana nightclub.

He joined forces with pianist Enrique Jorrin's band in the early 60s, and they played together until Jorrin's death in the mid-80s. Gonzalez took over the band for a time, but later retired.

In 1996, he met Cooder in Havana, and his career was reborn. Following the success of the first Buena Vista album, he played on subsequent recording sessions featuring fellow Cuban legends Ibrahim Ferrer (1999) and Omara Portuondo (2000).

However, in recent years he was best known for his solo album Introducing ... Ruben Gonzalez, made in 1997, and a follow-up, Chanchullo, which was recorded three years later.

The best-known Buena Vista Social Club figure, Compay Segundo, died in July at the age of 95. Born Maximo Francisco Repilado Munoz, Segundo was a guitarist and the band's lead singer.


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