Posted on August 5, 2010


Buena Vista Social Club | (1999)

Possibly one of the more well known world music albums of the 90’s, Buena Vista Social Club was a slow building phenomonon that introduced the rest of us to the music of Cuba. Salman Rushdie labelled 1998 the ‘Buena Vista Summer’ but i wasn’t fully aware when this initial wave of hype arrived. My first copy of the album was a blank cd in a clear plastic sleeve and as such it was just a collection of songs without titles and without a heritage. I eventually purchased a proper copy of the album which comes with a hefty booklet that outlines the story and the collective of accomplished musicians that make up Buena Vista Social Club.

Buena Vista Social Club At Carnegie Hall | 2008

Ry Cooder and son Jaochim in Havana | Buena Vista Social Club (1999)

Cuban musician Ibrahim Ferrer and director Wim Wenders | Buena Vista Social Club (1999)

On stage | Buena Vista Social Club (1999)

(Back Row, l to r) Orlando Cachaito Lopez, Joachim Cooder, Ry Cooder

(Front Row) Eliades Ocohoa, Ibrahim Ferrer, Juan de Marcos Gonzalez and Pio Leyva

Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo | Buena Vista Social Club (1999)

Orlando Cachaito Lopez, Compay Segundo, Omara Portuondo and Ry Cooder | Buena Vista Social Club (1999)

Bassist Orlando Cachaito Lopez who died just last year | S.Creutzmann/Corbis Sygma

Back in 2001, Time magazine published an article on the fresh new sounds of Cuba, it introduced me to the track 537 C.U.B.A. by Orishas.

“The song struck a chord; young fans began eagerly trading bootleg tapes of the group and flocking to their concerts. Orishas’ fame rose so rapidly that last year the group was invited to the presidential palace to meet Fidel Castro. “So you are the ones who have been making so much noise,” said El Presidente admiringly. This from a leader who had once banned American rock music.”  Dolly Mascareñas, TIME

Orishas |

Do you recognise the tune there? Course you do, it’s a re-working of Chan Chan, the cuban classic. Now, As soon as i had discovered Buena Vista Social Club the album i hastily gloated to my friends that i was now a cuban music fan, how would they know any better? In my hands was an album with tracklistings they couldn’t read, i was sorted, that was me, i was the go to music man in the group.

“People think because of Ry Cooder and Buena Vista that Cuban music became better known,” says Alfonso, who is also a member of the hot fusion group Sintesis. “That may be true, but it set us back 40 years. Now we are fighting against the mythological vision of the old Cuba, the Cuba of the Tropicana Club and old cars. All the musicians today have to fight to find a market.”  Dolly Mascareñas, TIME


The idea that rap gave a new generation of Cubans a distinct identity mirrors the original rise of rap from the Bronx in the late 80’s / early 90’s. It’s not hard to understand the resentment the new wave of cuban musicians feel towards those like me, who know enough about the history of Cuba’s music but very little about it’s present. I’ve made it a task of mine to get into some fresh cuban music, any recommendations?

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