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Buena Vista Social Club At Carnegie Hall

Buena Vista Social Club at Carnegie Hall

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

THE main trouble with most live albums is that you either have to be a dedicated fan, or have been there, to properly appreciate them. Buena Vista Social Club At Carnegie Hall bucks that trend by remaining a consistently good, even infectious listen whether you were there, or have never heard their music, or not. If anything, it makes you wish you were there.

For those that don’t know, Buena Vista Social Club is a Grammy Award–winning 1997 World Circuit album, produced by Ry Cooder, that remains the biggest-selling world music album ever, with more than eight million records sold to date.

It showcased a dream team of veterans from Cuban music’s golden age and introduced the rhythms of son, bolero and danzón to a new audience making stars of Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González, Eliades Ochoa, Omara Portuondo and Compay Segundo.

The complete original band played a sold-out, one-night-only concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall on July 1, 1998, which became the climax of the acclaimed 1999 Wim Wenders’ documentary about the musicians, also called Buena Vista Social Club. The recording of that historic night is only the second release by the original band.

The Buena Vista Social Club was never a regular band: they had come together for 10 days in a studio in Havana to record an album and then gone their separate ways. Some of them were touring the world with Juan de Marcos González and his Afro-Cuban All Stars. Others, such as Compay Segundo and Eliades Ochoa, had their own touring bands. Omara Portuondo had her own busy schedule and, so, too, did producer and guitarist Ry Cooder.

Eventually, a window was found to bring them all together in April 1998 for two nights at The Carré Theatre in Amsterdam. The concerts were such a success that this once-in-a-lifetime final show was staged at New York’s Carnegie Hall, the most prestigious concert platform in America.

Due to the US embargo on Cuba, most of the musicians had never been to America let alone played the Carnegie Hall and the night was an event and a celebration as much as a concert performance.

“Being on stage anywhere with those musicians and singers was a dream for me,’‘ recalls band leader Juan de Marcos. ‘’ But Carnegie Hall was something else. It’s the top venue in the world and I was so happy to be there and to see people like Rubén and Ibrahim on that stage. It was never going to happen. Except that it did.”

After that night, it was clear there would not be another concert; busy schedules kept the individual musicians touring and recording with their own projects, the brief window of opportunity for U.S. shows closed with the renewing of political hostilities and sadly within a few years a number of Buena Vista’s leading stars including Rubén González, Compay Segundo and Ibrahim Ferrer had passed away.

Until now, apart from the moments seen in Wim Wenders’ film, the music from that magical, memorable night has only ever been heard by the lucky few who were privileged to be there. The release of this album ensures that you can, in some small way, be a part of that historic occasion. And mark my words, there’s plenty to savour.

Download picks: Chan Chan, La Enganadora, Quizas Quizas, Veinte Anos, Orgullecida, Candela, Silencio

Track listing:
Disc: 1

  1. Chan Chan
  2. De Camino A La Vereda
  3. El Cuarto De Tula
  4. La Enganadora
  5. Buena Vista Social Club
  6. Dos Gardenias
  7. Quizas, Quizas
  8. Veinte Años

Disc: 2

  1. Orgullecida
  2. Y Tu Que Has Hecho?
  3. Siboney
  4. Mandinga
  5. Almendra
  6. El Carretero
  7. Candela
  8. Silencio