Over ten years ago a small yet delightful documentary exploded the world’s awareness of the richness of Cuban music. The film was born on the back of an album produced almost on a wing and a prayer, but the album became the biggest selling Cuban record of all time. Noted film director Wim Wenders joined guitarist Ry Cooder on a journey through the isolated island, bringing out from the shadows the giants of Cuban music. The IRS managed to hound Cooder for years, apparently costing him plenty of greenbacks. The film earned an Oscar nomination.
In much the same way Preservation Hall Jazz Band is more of a brand than a permanent cast of musicians, OBVSC is a collection of fine players. The brilliant 15-member lineup onstage at Humphrey’s included Latin Grammy award winners Omara Portuondo and Eliades Ochoa, trumpeter Guajiro Mirabal, and laúd virtuoso Barbarito Torres, all of whom count themselves among the original members of Buena Vista Social Club.
The evening was a delightful celebration, with solid musicianship coupled with excellent song selections.
The production values were very strong, with thoughtful video tributes to departed members, such as Ibrahim Ferrer. (Ferrer had been shining shoes and selling lottery tickets before the original BVSC album was released).
After a half dozen songs to get the crowd in the groove, Santiago de Cuba’s Eliades Ochoa strode on stage in his trademark cowboy hat and his unique harmonic guitar: a tres with added D and G strings. “Estoy Como Nunca” was especially poignant.
The delicate, sultry and beguiling Omara Portuondo then held the audience in her palms, assaying several classics including “No Me Llores” and “Quizas Quizas.” It was obvious why her latest solo album won a Latin Grammy for Best Contemporary Tropical Album.
Lovers of the original Buena Vista Social Club delighted in “Chan Chan,” which led to the finale “El Cuarto de Tula.”
The Orquesta was almost an embarrassment of riches, most notably with Guajiro Mirabal’s bright trumpet sound (he has been called “The Trumpet of Cuba).” Also noteworthy was pianist Roberto Fonseca, whose delicate phrasings were a steady contribution to the evening’s selections.
This is being called the “Adios Tour,” which is sad in many ways. Undoubtedly the musicians will continue their work in a variety of gatherings. But for those involved with the original project, they can take ongoing satisfaction that their music has been successful in breaking down the barriers that isolated Cuba for decades.