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Friday, October 30, 2015

Weeknight Date Night: Buena Vista Social Club

I think I saw it on Facebook; a sponsored post by a performing arts center out in the western part of the state advertising a night with the Buena Vista Social Club, a group of performers representing the "Golden Age" of Cuban music, from the 1930s to the 1950s. It was during this era where music like Afro-Cuban jazz, rumba and son, as well as the mambo, the cha cha cha, and the pachanga were born. 

As someone who enjoys Latin music, this seemed like a great event to enjoy with my favorite Señor. 

Named after the iconic Cuban members' club, these fraternal clubs were the backbone of Cuban social and ethnic hierarchy. There were clubs for doctors and engineers. There were clubs for cigar wrappers. At clubs for baseball players, they might play cards or sports. Musicians had the Buena Vista Social Club, like the music unions here in the Unites States. 

After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, many of these clubs were closed by the newly elected, devout Christian president, who soon resigned after his own disputes with Fidel Castro.  In his short lived presidency, he closed many places that were suggestive of, what he thought, was Havana's hedonistic lifestyle, where people might go to gamble or even dance, including the Buena Vista Social Club, where musicians gathered and threw parties. 

In an attempt to build a "classless and colorblind society," cultural expression was squashed. Cultural and social centers, where any cultural differences may have been apparent, were abolished, including clubs like the Buena Vista. Traditional Cuban music thrived, but only what was politically acceptable.

In the 1990s, fifty years after the club closed, American guitarist Ry Cooder and Cuban musician Juan de Marcos González, collaborated on a 1997 Grammy-winning recording, and later, a 1999 film about the sprit behind the Havana club. The surprise success of both the recording and the film outside of Havana, and Cuba's emerging tourist industry, renewed interest in Cuban music, and Latin American music worldwide. 

Several surviving members of the original crew tour under the hybrid collective umbrella of the Buena Vista Social Club, forming the thirteen member band, Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club

It was one of the best shows we have ever seen.

The energy, talent and experience of the musicians and vocalists, paired with the energy of the crowd in the venue, were staggering. They brought the house to their feet all evening, especially when the icons, like 85 year old, Omara Portuondo, came to the stage to sing a number of classic songs, and later, dance a salsa with her husband, one of the other musicians on stage, or when the Cuban Johnny Cash, Eliades Ochoa, was featured on particular pieces.

When they wrapped up for the evening, the crowd was not ready to say goodbye. 

"Otra!" they shouted, and Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club returned for a lively encore. 

The Señor and I agreed that we were blessed to see this iconic collaboration on their Adiós tour, especially after finding out that their only U.S. tour dates were in Boston and New York before heading overseas,  It was a lovely evening, indeed. 


  1. Whoa Kelly- what an exciting concert that sounds like an incredible blast! How lucky you were to attend Buena Vista Social Club Concert- and so happy you happened onto noticing. Your description gave me chills and I plan to listen to the album- and buy it- if I can ever again match my I-Tunes password when I try to purchase something, sigh. On a more serious side, there were these Cuban musical clubs years ago in New York, some were Cuban dissenters. One of the guys betrayed one or more of the musicians and they were forced to go back to Cuba. I remember reading the article and feeling so horrified. It is truly so great to see the preservation of this music, and so important from a cultural dimension too ( not to mention its uplifting beats.) Thanks for sharing such a great night and amazing music!

  2. Wow that sounded like much fun! Love the pics too! I never really listened to Cuban music but I really enjoyed that vid too! Thanks for sharing.

  3. We had such a great time! It makes a great Pandora station too! Happy Thanksgiving, Carolann!