Buena Vista Social Club, more than legend

It could not be otherwise. Buena Vista Social Club (BVSC) bid farewell to the world stage at home. Precisely because most of their performances took place in other countries, the legendary band decided to complete in Cuba its farewell tour – Adios Tour – with two concerts at the Karl Marx Theater in Havana, last June.

Buena Vista Social Club in the White House in Washington

Appeared in the mid-1990s and recognized internationally, BVSC rarely performed as a group in the national stages, although several members did it (and do it) regularly on the island with their solo projects, separately.

After one and a half years of farewell concerts around the world, which included a historical performance at the White House – by being the first Cuban band that performed there in more than half a century – the stars of Cuban traditional music said goodbye in the capital Havana with a new show, which included lesser-known songs from their repertoire and also the most representative as El cuarto de Tula”, “Dos gardenias”, “Candela”, Veinte años” and “El Chan Chan”.

With these last stages, BVSC once again demonstrated  that the music it defends never has been nor will be a thing of the past.

Ambassadors of son, bolero and danzón, the project since its inception in 1996 managed to establish itself to the taste of various generations and, in any case, to defend their own identity without succumbing to the vagaries of the market system and the big music industry.

Buena Vista Social Club in the White House in Washington

Senior artists

Composed mainly of experienced musicians from the Caribbean island – its most representative figures in activity are “la novia del feeling” Omara Portuondo, guitarist Eliades Ochoa, lutenist Barbarito Torres, trumpeter Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal, and percussionist Amadito Valdés – Buena Vista brought together in its early days, prestigious players of traditional Cuban rhythms, especially those from the 1930s to 1950.

The original team which put in the world spotlight the phenomenon Buena Vista and revitalized the Cuban traditional music, was comprised of musicians who, until now, had not received such a high international recognition.

In the list of members appeared figures like the beloved Compay Segundo (died 2003), Ibrahim Ferrer (1927-2005), Manuel “Puntillita” Licea (1927-2000), Pío Leyva (1917-2006), Raúl Planas (1925- 2001), Orlando “Cachaíto” López (1933-2009), Rubén González (1919-2003), Miguel Angá Diáz (1961-2006) and Manuel Galbán (1931-2011), one of the original Zafiros.

At the invitation of the Cuban musician Juan de Marcos González, the American guitarist Ry Cooder and producer Nick Gold was created the musical group whose world fame came with the Grammy in 1998 in the category traditional music, almost a year after recording the album that established the project name.

The popularity was supported by the documentary Buena Vista Social Club, by the German filmmaker Wim Wenders who also received a nomination for the Oscars in 2000 and won the prize for the best documentary at the European Film Awards.


Legend and prophet

Two interesting facts must be known : the name of Buena Vista Social Club comes from Club Social Buena Vista which was in Havana a very famous society for black people, in the early decades of the twentieth century ; and the ancestor of the group was the Afro Cuban All Stars orchestra started in 1995 by Juan de Marcos González himself, a former member of the Sierra Maestra group.

But let us return to the Cuban phenomenon : in their careers, they played in the most prestigious halls and theaters in the world ; Compay Segundo himself went to the Vatican ; they travelled on five continents ; their albums climbed the charts in Billboard magazine in the United States ; and they drew attention to photographers, filmmakers, journalists, scriptwriters, researchers, columnists, musicologists, researchers of international visibility noted in them a great potential. The Cuban music returned to appear on the map of world reference.

Being a project established, the members of BVSC continued at the same time their solo careers, which was generally well received both inside and outside Cuba. In this way, everyone was ambassador of the phenomenon Buena Vista and beyond the trade name of the group, we recognize its style, its musical excellence and its authenticity on the solo albums which were put (or are put) on the market with the signature of Eliades Ochoa, Omara Portuondo, the Guajiro Mirabal, Jesús “Aguaje” Ramos, among others.

After nearly two decades defending the Cuban music worldwide, the members of BVSC decided to put an end to the legend and that does not necessarily mean that it has disappeared. The musical heritage that they revitalized lives and remains in the spirit of Cuban music. Even if Cuban culture always has to honor Buena Vista Social Club especially because it had the unprecedented merit of being first legend in the world and then prophet in its own land.