Buena Vista Social Club (1999) [Revisited]

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Aging Cuban musicians whose talents had been virtually forgotten following Castro’s takeover of Cuba, are brought out of retirement by Ry Cooder, who travelled to Havana in order to bring the musicians together, resulting in triumphant performances of extraordinary music, and resurrecting the musicians’ careers.

Last night I was privileged and lucky enough to be able to witness Buena Vista Social Club on their farewell, or ‘Adios Tour’ of the UK at the breathtaking Royal Albert Hall. After 16 years of touring the world with over 40 members as part of the eclectic Cuban collective, it is time to call it a day for touring.

Named after the Buena Vista Social Club in Havana, American Guitarist Ry Cooder sought out and brought together Cuban musicians, to shine a light on music he loved so much. This documentary, made by Wim Wenders, chronicles the groups rising popularity after the release of their 1999 album, and showcases some of the initial performances with a full line-up. I cast my mind back to January last year when I was doing the ridiculous 365 movie challenge, and the 12th on that list was the Buena Vista Social Club documentary. What I wrote was fairly succinct, and essentially uninsightful, but did get the point across. I go back and watch the documentary now, after seeing the band live that my brother refers to as “Nando’s Background Music” with a new sense of excitement.

A combination of the sheer awe of the venue and the fact it was their ‘Adios Tour’ clearly plays a part in that feeling. However, the tributes projected onto the rear wall of the likes of  Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González and Manuel “Puntillita” Licea (each of whom, much like many other members of the group have had their own successful careers before BVSC) and that 84-year-old Omara Portuondo managed to whip the Royal Albert Hall into a standing salsa shaking frenzy, has given me an unbelievable respect and admiration for this group. It brought a touching moment of reality, seeing it all in the flesh, knowing that these individuals devoted themselves to Cuban music and their passion for it.

CB257veW4AEFm-p.jpg-large(Photo from @worldcircuit)

The documentary, much like the club itself, is designed to provide a platform to promote Cuban music. It is made for you to watch and seek out the individuals who comprise the group, to look for their back-catalogues and expand your musical horizons to include Cuban music. Ry Cooder did a wonderful thing bringing all of these people together, taking them on an experience they never thought they would have – moments of which are captured to perfection on the documentary.

Music is made to be shared and enjoyed, and nothing was more enjoyable last night than standing there with the biggest smile on my face as they played the most incredible, intricate and beautiful sounding music I have ever had the pleasure of seeing live.

I highly recommend this documentary, their albums, the solo albums, and while half of me wishes the ‘Adios Tour’ actually isn’t their last hurrah, the other half believes last night was such a fitting tribute to those past and present, it was the only way to go out.

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