Buena Vista Social Club
The Coolest Reclamation Project in Music History
When guitarist Ry Cooder and producer Nick Gold went around Havana looking for singers and instrumentalists who'd made their mark in the pre-Castro heyday of son, they didn't expect to find one legend (the vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer) working as a messenger for a shoeshine operation, or another (pianist Rubén González) playing for gymnastics classes. They also didn't expect that the simple act of bringing these veterans into a recording studio, a place many hadn't visited in thirty years, would lead to such warm and affirmative music—much less an international sensation.
Cooder recalled later that his first emotion was dismay: "It seemed obvious to me that these people, who were like legends to some of us, had been completely disregarded at home." Still, Cooder discovered, the musicians and singers had grown wary. "They had been through the carpetbagger thing before, where people would come and make a record with them and never pay. When we started I felt we needed to earn their trust . . . so we got them to tell stories."
Those stories led the group back to some old favorites of Cuban music from the 1950s— the swaying son rhythms of "Chan Chan" and the famed bolero "Dos gardenias." Cooder recorded everything live in a well-preserved state-run studio, and took care to re-create the classic sounds, at times just slipping in ethereal guitar commentary. The result is easy-sipping genius of the highest order.
The initial Buena Vista, and a Wim Wenders film documenting the project, created demand for worldwide tours and more recordings in that Old Havana spirit. Cooder obliged with several subsequent records; the best of them is The Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer, which was the first time in the captivatingly gruff singer's fortyodd-year career that he ever had his name on the front of an album. Recorded two years after the round-robin initial session, this one is even more lustrous. The band's tighter, and Ferrer responds to it with vivid, heart-heavy singing—he's plenty fiery yet completely in control of that wiggly-worm hipsway that remains a Cuban secret.
Genre: World, Cuba
Released: 1997, Nonesuch/World Circuit
Key Tracks: "Chan Chan," "Dos gardenias"
Catalog Choice: The Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer
Next Stop: Trio Matamoros: Todos sus exitos
After That: Septeto Habanera: Seventy-five Years Later
Book Pages: 805–806