Biography All Music Guide
All Music Guide:
With the release of the Grammy-winning album Buena Vista Social Club and an acclaimed documentary of the same name, Cuban guajiro composer Faustino Oramas vaulted from obscurity and poverty to international fame in the twilight of his life. Born June 4, 1911, in Holguín, Cuba, Oramas left his dirt-poor family at age 15, wandering from town to town as a troubadour. At first he relied on traditional guaracha ballads, but while serving with the sextet La Tropical he began writing original material, exhibiting a particular skill for lyrics rich in double entendres and sexual innuendo. As Oramas' fame grew, so did his notoriety as a womanizer -- when he and a lover were caught under a guayabera tree by her jealous husband, the singer was given the sobriquet "El Guayabero," also the title of one of his most popular songs. The singer Ibrahim Ferrer did much to further popularize Oramas' music, recording definitive renditions of songs including "Compositor Confundido" and "Mañana Me Voy a Sibanicu." Oramas was also one of the few Cuban musicians to benefit from Fidel Castro's revolution, receiving encouragement and financial assistance from state government organizations.
In the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis, with American tourists now forbidden to visit the island, there was little money in music, and most of Oramas' colleagues and rivals were forced to seek manual labor, or else leave their homeland in search of other opportunities. He nevertheless remained loyal to Castro and to Communism's egalitarian principles, and in 1986 was even the subject of a state-funded documentary, En Guayabero, Mamá. So it was particularly ironic that Oramas was performing in Spain in 1996 and thus unable to participate when the virtuoso American guitarist Ry Cooder traveled to Havana to record Buena Vista Social Club, a collaboration with Cuban son greats including pianist Rubén González and singer Compay Segundo. Ibrahim Ferrer joined the project as well, contributing a performance of the Oramas song "Ay, Candela!" in its writer's absence. The 1997 album sold over four million copies and made global celebrities of its featured musicians and composers, and that same year filmmaker Wim Wenders followed Cooder back to Havana for a documentary also titled Buena Vista Social Club. In 2002, Oramas was also the subject of a CD retrospective, El Guayabero, and that same year earned Cuba's National Humor Prize. He died at home in Holguín on March 26, 2007, after a long bout with cancer.