Buena Vista Social Cub

01:00 Mon 07th May 2001 |

I've just heard about a new band called the Buena Vista Social Club, who are they < xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

A.� They're not really a 'new' band, although some of the musicians would be flattered by that description!

Q.� Why is that

A.� Because the band consist of some of the greatest veteran Cuban musicians who are enjoying a new lease of life, pianist Ruben Gonzalez would love to be called a member of a 'new' band, he's 87 years old.

Q.� Perhaps some background

A.� Certainly. Cuba has enjoyed a long tradition of salsa and dance music, which thrived in the 1930's and 1940's, but was suppressed by the incoming Communist government of Fidel Castro. Many of the musicians who played their country's traditional music resigned themselves to the notion that their careers were over, and at ages when rebellion was less of an attractive notion than it may have been in their younger days, they quietly retired.

Q.� So how did they get started again

A.� The idea of recording some of the veteran Cuban musicians, and their infectious dance music, came from American guitarist Ry Cooder.

Q.� I've never heard of him, who is he

A.� Maybe not the name, but the music may be familiar. Cooder is a veteran session musician who has worked with musicians as diverse as Randy Newman and Captain Beefheart. He appears on two Rolling Stones albums, Sticky Fingers and Let It Bleed, and the Stones offered him the vacant guitarist slot after the tragic death of Brain Jones, but Cooder declined. He went on to a successful solo career. His Bop Til You Drop album in 1979 was the first album to use the then revolutionary digital recording technology, and Cooder has�composed and recorded a large number of movie soundtracks. Ry Cooder has always enjoyed experimenting with the widest ranges of musical styles, so for him it seemed a natural choice to head out to Cuba in 1996, and track down some of the musicians who had influenced his own work.

Q.� What happened next

A.� Cooder travelled to Cuba and located singer Ibrahim Ferrer, guitarists/singers Compay Segundo and Eliades Ochoa, as well as the veteran pianist Ruben Gonzalez. The band recorded an album, The Buena Vista Social Club, which was a runaway critical and commercial success, earning a Grammy Award. Cooder returned to Cuba with his son Joaquim, a percussionist, to record a solo album with Ferrar, and the sessions were filmed by acclaimed director Wim Wenders, who also captured the sold out performances of the band in Amsterdam and New York. The film The Buena Vista Social Club won an Academy Award nomination, and the ongoing runaway success of the Buena Vista Social Club was assured.

Q.� Are all the musicians of a similar age

A.� The majority of the core members of the Club are veteran musicians from the golden age of traditional Cuban music. Singer Omara Portuondo is introduced on stage as "the sexiest of the sexy singers", a title she is doubtless very proud of. Ms Portuondo was in the studio when the original album was recorded, and was invited to sing, and subsequently tour with the Club. She is 71! Tragically, violin player Pedro Gonzalez died while on stage with the band in Switzerland, last month.

Q.� What do the musicians make of this sudden fame at their age

A.� They are totally amazed, bemused and thankful, probably in that order. Ruben Gonzalez had retired from life as a musician years before Cooder offered him a chance to resurrect his career. In spite of his age, Gonzalez says he lives for touring, and wants to spend the remainder of his life playing his music around the world for the new generation of fans who have discovered the salsa and jazz styles he pioneered over sixty years ago.

Q.� Did anyone expect the revival to take off like this

A.� It's unlikely, and that is part of the appeal of music, it can span decades and continents, and find a new audience who enjoy its freshness and vitality for the first time.

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