Havana's Buena Vista Social Club, a members-only dance hall, closed its doors in the early 1940s. Decades later, the name resurrected in the form of an ensemble that popularized Cuban son music once more. American guitarist Ry Cooder traveled to Cuba and recorded the Buena Vista Social Club's self-titled debut album released in 1997. The album and documentary that followed became an international sensation.
Like its namesake, the band's sixteen-year journey is coming to a close. The Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club, its current avatar, says “adiós” to audiences in OC and around the world during one final tour.
The Orquesta counts among it original musicians who recorded on the debut album including singer/guitarist Eliades Ochoa, vocalist Omara Portuondo, trumpeter Guajiro Mirabal and masterful laúd player Barbarito Torres. “It's an incredible honor to be part of this,” Torres tells the Weekly. “And I mean the whole thing, from the album, documentary, tours and this farewell tour we are doing.”
The Buena Vista Social Club name has functioned as a cultural ambassador into the richness of Cuban music. “The success gave us the chance to make our music very popular all over the world,” Torres adds. “The songs we perform are timeless Cuban classics, a sound that makes part of our culture and roots.”
From “Chan Chan” to “Dos Gardenias,” Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club brings the best of classic son, bolero and guajira sounds from the island. Under the musical direction of trombonist and conductor Jesus “Aguaje” Ramos, the ensemble continues the tradition by mixing in a multi-generational lineup of superb musicians like double bassist Pedro Pablo and tres player Papi Oviedo.
“It was easy for us because they are very talented musicians and they have a deep respect for the traditional sounds of Cuban classics,” Torres says of his newer band mates. “Also each one of them, like pianist Rolando Luna or Singer Carlos Calunga have been playing now for so many years. They have their own career as solo artists.”
The farewell tour also comes with Lost N Found, a goodbye album. It features recordings from the mythic six-day session that didn't make it to the eponymous debut for one reason or another. The voices and musicianship of original members passed on like Ibrahim Ferrer and pianist Ruben González are brought back to life.
Six original members, including the inimitable Compay Segundo, have crossed over to the big dance hall in the sky. The Orquesta makes sure to pay tribute to their memory. “The show is very special, because is a way to thank the audience for so many years of love and also we have a special homage to the great artists like Ibrahim, Rubén, Compay that have been part of the Buena Vista Social Club,” Torres says.
The Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club's final bow ends where it all began in Havana, but not before stopping by OC first. “After the farewell tour some of us are going to work on our own projects and shows,” Torres says. “But, for sure, the music will keep on going!”
Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club performs at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, (714) 556- 2787; www.scfta.org, Sun., 7 p.m. $49. All ages.
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!