Buena Vista Social Club

Buena Vista Social Club

****1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Let's hear it for the good ol' boys! If anyone needs reminding that age is irrelevant to the quality of an artist's work, look no further. The style and grace of these musicians is as unpretentious as it is heartfelt. Ry Cooder, the guitarist, went to Cuba for the first time in 1996 to make an album with some local players and a selection of star imports from Mali. As it turned out, the Africans didn't show - passport problems in Burkina Faso. Cooder made do with what he had, plus additional old guys, plucked from obscurity and retirement.

The resulting album - also called Buena Vista Social Club - won a Grammy and became an international hit. Cooder went on to do the soundtrack for Wim Wender's LA movie, The End Of Violence. He enthused the German director so much about Havana and these amazing musicians that when he returned to record Ibrahim Ferrer, a 70-year-old Nat King Cole soundalike, Wenders came along to film it.

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As well as low tech studio time - microphones as big as dinner plates - Wenders wanders the streets, talking to the cast. The Buena Vista line-up is reunited for an astonishing concert in Amsterdam, shot in black-and-white and edited into the footage at relevant points, culminating in a triumphant fairwell show at Carnegie Hall, New York, which seems drab and formal by comparison.

Wenders admits he "winged it." This is documentary as a journey into the unknown. The character of the players, the vibrant energy of the music, the faded grandeur of a city spared the vanity of restoration gives the film a unique quality. "This is the kind of thing that happens once in a lifetime," Cooder says. "You have trained all your life for it."

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Documentary about the Cuban stars who went on to become an international phenomenon.
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