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The Culture Vulture

About cultural things: music, dance, literature and theatre.

Whatever happened to BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB?
Sunday, January 1, 2023 @ 7:49 AM

The phenomenon that was Buena Vista Social Club began in the mid-late 1990s when the US singer and guitarist Ry Cooder was granted permission by the USA government to travel to Cuba to carry out a research project into Cuban music.

He discovered a group of elderly musicians who no longer played music and just hung around the social club in the Buenavista barrio of Havana, the Cuban capital. Cooder dragged them back into the recording studio where between them they created the eponymous album which was released in 1996.


The record was an overnight sensation and the group toured the world over the next few years. This loose collective of elderly musicians became suddenly very rich.

The German film director Wim Wenders made a documentary about them based around their concert in New York in 1998 and later interviews in Havana. The film was nominated for an Oscar and received countless other awards and accolades.

I first became aware of Buena Vista Social Club around the time of the release of their first album. I was immediately hooked together with music fans the world over. I accumulated a number of albums by other Cuban musicians who coat-tailed on the success of BVSC, among them the Afro-Cuban All Stars, Sierra Maestra and later Orishas. This music was for me the soundtrack to a beautiful love affair.

I was fortunate to see them perform live at the Royal Festival Hall in 1997. Some of the players became famous in their own right as soloists and performed independently. These included Compay Segundo, pianist Ruben Gonzalez, Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo and Eliades Ochoa. The first three are now long dead, dying at the ages of 95, 84 and 78 respectively in the early 2000s. Portuondo and Ochoa are still going strong at the ages of 92 and 76 respectively. I saw Gonzalez and Portuondo live in London also.






















As the musicians died or retired, new people came on board. The name has now become synonymous with Cuban music of the 30s, 40s and 50s, a kind of brand name for the genre. As Ry Cooder, who often played along with hs son Joaquin Cooder, said, it was their calling card.

Alas, the original “group” is no longer. Indeed, Wim Wenders filmed a follow-up documentary entitled "Buena Vista Social Club: Adios" in 2017.

But, hey, what a legacy they left after such a relatively short time in the public eye - just 20 years.


© The Culture Vulture


Tags: Afro-Cuban All Stars, Buena Vista Social Club, Buena Vista Social Club: Adios, Compay Segundo, Cuba, Cuban music, Culture Vulture, Eliades Ochoa, Havana, Ibrahim Ferrer, Joaquin Cooder, London, Omara Portuondo, Orishas, Royal Festival Hall, Ruben Gonzalez, Ry Cooder, Sierra Maestra, Wim Wenders

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