The Buena Vista Social Club, the album and the film is the story of a remarkable re-living of the classic era of Cuban popular music, the resurrection of musical forms and personalities that have wielded an extraordinary influence over Western music. It is the story of one of the most unique musical narratives of our time.
In 1996, American guitarist Ry Cooder had been invited to Havana by British world music producer Nick Gold of World Circuit Records to record a session where two African musicians from Mali were to collaborate with Cuban musicians.On Cooder’s arrival it transpired that the musicians from Africa had not received their visas and were unable to travel to Havana. Cooder and Gold changed their plans and decided to record an album of Cuban son music with local musicians.
Already on board the African collaboration project were Cuban musicians including bassist Orlando “Cachaito” López, guitarist Eliades Ochoa and musical director Juan de Marcos González, who had himself been organizing a similar project for the Afro-Cuban All Stars. A search for additional musicians led the team to singer Manuel “Puntillita” Licea, pianist Rubén González and octogenarian singer Compay Segundo, who all agreed to record for the project.
Within three days of the project’s birth, Cooder, Gold and de Marcos had organized a large group of performers and arranged for recording sessions to commence at Havana’s EGREM Studios, formerly owned by RCA records, where the equipment and atmosphere had remained unchanged since the 1950s.
The album was recorded in just six days and contained fourteen tracks; opening with “Chan Chan” written by Compay Segundo, a four chord son that was to become what Cooder described as “the Buena Vista’s calling card” and ending with a rendition of “La Bayamesa”, a traditional Cuban patriotic song