As a key member of Buena Vista Social Club, singer Ibrahim Ferrer helped fuel global interest in pre-Castro Cuban music, his feathery voice adding an elegance and sprightly spirit to the collective's material. ''He had a spontaneity that people responded to,'' says famed guitarist Ry Cooder, who produced Buena Vista Social Club and two solo Ferrer CDs. ''It was a rare quality and very charismatic.'' Ferrer died in Havana on Aug. 6 of multiple organ failure at the age of 78.
Born in 1927, Ferrer began performing in Cuba in the '40s, and by the time Cooder found him in the late '90s, he was long retired. ''We literally dragged him into the studio,'' Cooder recalls. ''I think he had shut off all expectations.'' Due to the popularity of the Buena Vista Social Club album (1.6 million copies sold) and the Wim Wenders-directed doc, Ferrer stumbled into an unexpected revival, even winning a Latin Grammy for Best New Artist at 72. Says Cooder: ''Without him, I don't think there would have been a Buena Vista Social Club.''
ESSENTIAL CDS Buena Vista Social Club (1997): Ferrer's fiery ''Candela'' is a highlight. Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer (1999): A sort of sequel, with a greater focus on smooth ballads.