Graham Reid | | 1 min read
A decade on and the Buena Vista Social Club story just keeps being told: there was the original album, the Wim Wenders doco, the solo albums by various members, the touring, the t-shirts . . .
Not bad for a project about which timbales player Amadito Valdes says, "I still don't know why Buena Vista Social Club became such a success except that we did it with no commercial intent. We did it with love and solidarity for Cuban music".
True, and people all over the world found the album and fell in love with the woozy swoon of the melodies, the subtle and soft rhythms, the exceptional playing by pianist Ruben Gonzalez, the vocals of Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo, the guitar and singing of Compay Segundo . . .
And of course the story of these old musicians who had been marginalised by their own society only to be brought to attention by American guitarist Ry Cooder . . .
Although the story wan't quite that simple.
But no one could deny the charm of the music and it just made you feel good, or be moved by the aching and cracking style of Ferrer and 91-year old Segundo.
A decade on and this double disc (in a cover which wittily mimics the original sleeve image, see right) offers their complete Carnegie Hall concert of July 98 which was not just unexpected (and an unexpected sell-out success) because they weren't "a band" as such, but also ran entirely counter to expectation: that musicians from Cuba should be given visas to get out of the country - and visas into the States - let alone play in that venue was little short of astonishing.
And, on the evidence of what is here, the concert itself was also astonishing.
Live they sound inspired, the guitar work on El Cuarto de Tula is jittery and quite breathtaking, Gonzalez' piano work sublime and romantic, the ensemble sound like they are thoroughly enjoying themselves, and there is a joy which is palpable.
Listened to even 10 years on it brings a smile, but it is also tempered with sadness: a number of these players have passed on, notably Ferrer, Gonzalez and Segundo.
But that is now and this was then -- and back then the music of the Buena Vista Social Club came as a warm but invigorating breeze across the world. You can feel it again here.