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Buena Vista Social Club

The Cuban musical collective known as Buena Vista Social Club became a surprise international hit in the late 1990s with its eponymous debut album and documentary film. Conceived by British producer Nick Gold and American guitarist Ry Cooder, the project effectively relaunched the careers of Cuban legends like Ibrahim Ferrer and Rubén González, introducing them and several other renowned local players to a widespread global audience. The album's success led to a revival not only of Cuban music, but of Latin music as a whole which carried into the 21st century. A later touring group called Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club continued to represent the project's music and spirit over subsequent decades. Buena Vista Social Club's origins lie with producer Nick Gold of Britain's World Circuit label who invited guitarist Ry Cooder to Havana in 1996 to participate in sessions that were to pair Cuban musicians with African players from Mali. When the Malians failed to to obtain the necessary visas, Gold and Cooder quickly changed tack and sought out a number of legendary local musicians whose performing careers had largely ended decades earlier with the rise of Fidel Castro. Recruiting the long-forgotten likes of singer Ibrahim Ferrer, guitarists/singers Compay Segundo and Eliades Ochoa, and pianist Rubén González, Gold and Cooder entered Havana's Egrem Studios to record an album of Cuban son music that was eventually released as Buena Vista Social Club; the project was an unexpected commercial and critical smash, earning a Grammy Award and becoming the best-selling release of Cooder's long career. In 1998 he returned to Havana with his son, percussionist Joachim, to record a solo LP with Ferrer; the sessions were captured on film by director Wim Wenders, who also documented sell-out Buena Vista Social Club live performances in Amsterdam and New York City. (Wenders' film, also titled Buena Vista Social Club, earned an Academy Award nomination in 2000.) The public's continued interest in Cuban music subsequently generated solo efforts from Segundo and González, as well as a series of international live performances promoted under the Buena Vista Social Club aegis. A concert CD, At Carnegie Hall, drawn from the same triumphant show that Wenders featured in his documentary, was released in 2008 -- a few years after the deaths of Segundo, Ferrer, and González. In the spring of 2015, Nonesuch/World Circuit released Lost and Found, a collection of unreleased tracks from the 1996 Egrem and 2000 recording sessions, as well as live tracks. A group containing some of the original members called Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club continued to perform, and their farewell tour took place that year. In 2021, a quarter century after the original sessions took place, World Circuit issued an expanded 25th anniversary edition of Buena Vista Social Club featuring previously unreleases material. The archival celebration continued a year later with the release of the vinyl-only EP Ahora Me Da Pena.
© Jason Ankeny /TiVo
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