Best known for the Wim Wenders film of the same name, which documents the recording of the album spotlighted today, Buena Vista Social Club will always be known as a release that reminded us why heart matters so much in music. The players consist, on the whole, of extremely experienced, elderly Cuban musicians who each once held a significant reputation at the Havana club which gave them their name. Painstakingly rounded up by jazz guitar legend, Ry Cooder, it doesn’t even take much dusting off for these long-forgotten virtuosos to once again give music the soul and dedication it deserves. What they come out with is of such incredible quality that it’s hard to believe their material was on the verge of dying out. Suffice to say, thank great Atheismo that it didn’t.
While the project is undoubtedly led and steered by the aforementioned Cooder (along with bandleader, Juan de Marcos González), it’s the performances of the traditional – and far more senior – talents that make the album more than just another World Music toe-dip. Whether entranced by the crooning singularity of Ibrahim Ferrer, dancing to the tang of Compay Segundo’s son cubano, left open mouthed at nimble-fingered Rubén González or seduced by the life breathed into Orlando López’s bass, it’s impossible to not be completely in awe of how much these people feel what they sing and play. That’s something I think we can agree is absent all too often from the modern musical climate in the west, and at times that can make Buena Vista Social Club an almost tragic watermark a dying industry can rarely reattain. It also makes it a must-listen, or indeed watch if you opt for the film, for anyone whose interest in music goes beyond the radio stations available in their car.
Buena Vista Social Club is an album that can be enjoyed on a multitude of different levels, and merely on the surface it’s a bubbling treat for the ears (truly an earmark of greatness – something all-depth is as distasteful as something all-surface). It would work beautifully as an evening apéritif to simply sit in the background, but would just as equally reward those who want to analyse its every movements and technical flourishes. Unarguably a release that lives up to the gravitas its legacy spreads, the only people who can take nothing from it are the racist – at least that’s how I see, or indeed hear, it. I would hope that it’s vibrant and passionate music like this that inspires our next generation of melodic taste-makers, but there’s no denying that these things all too often end up on the shelves of music teachers worldwide; left as a lazy lesson for unappreciative classrooms. I dare you to tell me that any of the last five songs you heard on Radio 1 are as powerful as this: