Latinegr@s Project: Buena Vista Social Club

I have to admit when I first thought about highlighting this amazing group I thought it would be an easy thing. However, like most things as significant as they are, the history is very deep. My love for music is well known and when I heard these band of musicians play, I was hooked. So let’s stick to the facts.

Buena Vista Social Club is the name of the album by a group titled “Buena Vista Social Club”. This was a compilation of sorts led by a Cuban musician Juan de Marcos González and an American guitarist Ry Cooder. They brought together some of the finest veteran Cuban musicians such as such Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González, and Compay Segundo, whose careers were stunted by the revolution of 1959.

The album itself was inspired the actual Buena Vista Social Club. This members-only club was located in the Marianao neighborhood of Havana. The members of this club was the social elite that dates back to the Spanish colonization of Cuba. As in most clubs through the island, membership was determined by ethnicity which started during the time when Afro Cubans were discriminated against during and after slavery. However, Havana had a social black elite called Sociedades de Negros (Black Societies) made up of doctors and engineers. Buena Vista Social Club was the place they came together.

Many prominent musicians and bands performed there during the 1930’s and 40’s. This musical era saw the birth of mambo, the charanga, and development of traditional Afro-Cuban music. Most of that music of the time as made a strong impact on current Latin Music today.

In 1959 the Cuban Revolution gave birth to communism. Led by President Manuel Urrutia Lleó, the government closed all gambling spots, nightclubs, and any other establishments associated with Havana’s luxurious lifestyle. This included any organization in which membership was exclusionary. The Cuban government made an effort to build a “classless and colorblind society”, but it struggled to define policy toward cultural expression in the Afro-Cuban community. Ultimately, these measures led to the closing of the Buena Vista Social Club.

These closures put some the greatest Afro-Cuban musicians out of work for more than 40 years. This style of music was sharply in decline until the Buena Vista Social Club collaboration resurrected it.

In 1996, Ry Cooder was invited to music producer Nick Gold of World Circuit Records to record a session two musicians from Mali and a collaboration of various Cuban artists. The African musicians could not obtain their visa which made Cooder and Gold changed their plans and record an album of Cuban music with local musicians. Some of these local musicans, like Ibrahim Ferrer, were the same artists that played in the actual clubs of Havana in the 1950’s. The album was recorded in just six days and contained fourteen tracks. Most of the communication was conducted via an interpreter, but anyone will say that music was the universal language spoken during that week.

Buena Vista Social Club earned a nomerous amount of praise and accolades from several music writers and publications. In 2003, the album was ranked number 260 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

I personally have this album and I feel it makes me connect to my roots. This is a must buy for any music lover.

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