all together, with feeling now, rollofilm

Musical stardust.

Hello my lovelies, what’s the most amazing or moving story you’ve read or seen lately?

I thought I’d share mine with you –

One weekend, M and I were wandering around VideoEzy, bored by the newer releases. On a whim, we rented the PBS documentary Buena Vista Social Club.

Years ago, I’d bought BVSC member Omara Portuondo’s album, enthralled by her lilting vocals and melancholic brand of Cuban music. But perhaps I was too young and too naive, for I soon abandoned it for more exciting, contemporary sounds.

The documentary takes you back to 1996 Cuba (which in all probability looks just like Cuba today), and shares the stories of these great musicians who came from different backgrounds but lived and thrived once in the Golden Era of Havana music.

The 80, 90 year old lead musicians are always dressed smartly – newsboy caps, fedoras, suspenders and suits, shiny shoes, the works – an endearing and slightly heartwrenching sight, as they sit in humbly furnished, decaying rooms, talking about their lives. Gentlemen from another time, their greatness forgotten and buried by hardship and political strife.

But oh, when you hear them play.

“With the bittersweet delicacy of a classic bolero, the Buena Vista Social Club simultaneously celebrated the vitality and virtuosity of its musicians and mourned the era they embody… An era when Latin music was danceable but not frenetic, restrained yet puckish, and sensual but not blatant.

Mr. Ferrer and Mr. Segundo sang with sweet, rounded tones, less cutting than current salsa singers, as the lyrics reveled in passion or reminisced about lost love.

Octavio Calderon and Manuel Mirabel made their trumpets beg and tease; Barbarito Torres on the laoud playing whizzing lines and jabbing dissonant chords. Mr. Segundo’s guitar solos were gleaming and languid, lazing behind the beat and then sprinting.”

– The New York Times, July 3 1998

In 1998, thanks to the success of their eponymous album (recorded in just 10 days in a charming Havana studio that hasn’t moved a day past 1960), they played one dream show in Carnegie Hall. They would never play again together. A few years later, key members Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer and Ruben Gonzalez would pass away.

The looks on their faces when the audience roared – that pure pleasure and gratitude to even be there together reunited again after the album, having been virtually unknown outside of Cuba just a couple of years before – the sheer magnificence of every line enunciated and every swelling melody sung (by voice and by instrument) – the knowledge that this was truly a once in a lifetime experience and possibly the last show they’d ever do as a full ensemble together – wow.

It was moving and poignant on so many levels. They truly don’t make music like that anymore.

So after watching the documentary, I ordered the Carnegie Hall concert ‘live’ CD from It’s so inspiring and such a soulful, brilliant piece of music.

p.s. Can’t wait to listen to this in our new home, while burning this :

Cire Trudon’s Ernesto candle smells just like an old Havana club – you can almost hear the overhead fan slowly whirling while the men languidly smoke their cigars and sip their glasses of rum in old brow-beaten leather armchairs, the cigars and leather mixing intoxicatingly with the smell of the well-trodden wood floors and warm piano keys. Mmmmm. :)

(images via Randal Hasson / Womex / Empire Online / Uncut / Amara )


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