The enduring appeal of Cuba past

Simon Parkin For an album of 50-year-old music that's been on sale for more than a decade, its remarkable that the original Buena Vista Social Club album is constantly being re-ordered. SIMON PARKIN examines the enduring appeal.

Simon Parkin

For an album of 50-year-old music that's been on sale for more than a decade, its remarkable that the original Buena Vista Social Club album is constantly been re-ordered.

“The original still consistently sells well and many of the artists who were involved, like Ibrahim Ferrer and Ruben Gonzalez, have all gone on to have very successful solo albums too,” says Andrew Cane, owner of Norwich's Prelude Records. “It's remarkable really that these ageing artists have all had burgeoning careers in their later years. It's an extraordinary niche they've carved out. To a lot of people Buena Vista Social Club simply is the sound of Cuba.”

When the original record appeared in 1997, critics hailed the band's revival of the sounds of Cuba's golden era, but few anticipated the worldwide phenomenon that has followed.

The Buena Vista was a members-only social club in Havana that held dances and becoming a popular location for musicians to meet during the pre-revolution 1940s

Fifty-years later Ry Cooder joined Cuban musicians, some of whom were veterans who had performed at the club during the height of its popularity, to record an album that became a huge word of mouth hit, selling five million copies.

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A subsequent concert at Carnegie Hall, New York City was filmed by Wim Wenders, going on to scoop an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary.

And the love-affair with this rediscovered golden music continues. Last year, unlikely as it sounds, surviving members of the Buena Vista collective found themselves re-mixing tracks by the likes of Arctic Monkeys, U2, Radiohead and Kaiser Chiefs for the album Rhythms Del Mundo.

The collective also continues to tour regularly. This latest UK jaunt brings together an 11-piece Cuban band, now minus Compay Segundo, González and Ferrer, who died between 2003 and 2005,

Echoing the classic Motown and Stax revue shows of the 1960s these live shows will take audiences on a musical excursion going from the original Buena Vista Social Club recordings right up to the present day. It's guaranteed to turn Norwich into Havana for the evening.

Leading the line will be Orlando 'Cachaito' Lopez , Guajiro Mirabal, Jesús 'Aguaje' Ramos and Manuel Galbán who'll also feature material from their acclaimed solo albums.

Bassist Cachaito Lopez is the only musician to have played on every track on every album in the Buena Vista Social Club series.

Guajiro Mirabal's distinctive trumpet sound has accompanied virtually every Cuban star you could mention, while Jesús 'Aguaje' Ramos' trombone has been an integral part of Cuban recordings for the past decade, and both his playing and band-leading skills have also made him a key feature on various Buena Vista tours.

Each has an individual take on Cuban music, and they've each put their stamp on son montunos, danzón, cha cha cha, boleros, and Cuban jazz.

But with all the musician knocking on in years, what does the future hold? “There are some younger Cuban artists come through too,” says Cane. “People like Roberto Fonseca, the pianist who played at this year's Norfolk and Norwich Festival, have played with Buena Vista Social Club.

“It will be fascinating to see whether people like him can keep the Buena Vista Social Club spirit going.”

t The Buena Vista Social Club, Theatre Royal, Monday, May 26, £27.50-£6, 01603 600000,


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