Buena Vista Social Club, which began as a group of Cuban senior citizens who rose to global stardom after being recruited by Ry Cooder for a historic recording session in Havana, will reportedly say “Adios” to world stages with a 2014-2015 farewell tour.
“We want our music to endure over time and continue to charm the world,” 83-year-old singer Omara Portuondo told news agency Europa Press. “That is what we have achieved with our concerts.”
The Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club… Adiós Tour will kick off in summer 2014 and wrap up in the fall of 2015, with a final concert in Havana, according to the report, published in Cuba’s state newspaper Granma and Spain’s ABC. The group’s musical director, Jesus Ramos, has also announced plans for Buena Vista to tour Cuba early next year, which would mark the first ever cross-island tour for the orchestra, which was created for export and first made its name abroad.
The 1997 album “Buena Vista Social Club,” a sleeper hit that became a worldwide phenomenon, has sold nearly 1.9 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The timing of the album and the band’s subsequent tours had special significance in the United States, since the enthusiastic response to the record coincided with a loosening of U.S. embargo travel regulations for the purpose of cultural exchange under the Clinton Administration. That led the way for Cuban musicians to tour in this country at a pace not seen since the 1950s. Buena Vista Social Club played Carnegie Hall in 1998.
Since then, most of the best-known members,immortalized in an Oscar-nominated Buena Vista Social Club documentary by Wim Wenders, have passed away. And Cooder, who had recruited the seasoned artists with the help of Cuban bandleader Juan de Marcos, stepped away after recording solo albums with the charismatic vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer and other Buena Vista stars.
As the tours continued over the next decade, Buena Vista evolved from a band to a brand, featuring different line-ups of multi-generational musicians. Although the orchestra was absent from the United States for seven years, like other Cuban artists kept out by President George W. Bush’s policies, it continued to attract audiences elsewhere. The group in its different configurations has performed over a thousand concerts with a total of over 40 musicians, according to Granma.
Although it’s been 16 years since the Buena Vista Social Club was introduced, there were cheers and gasps at the first notes of “Chan Chan,” the album’s opening track, at a September concert in Los Angeles. The group played an extensive U.S. 2013 fall tour and is currently performing in Europe.
On stage in L.A., Portuondo, who long before Buena Vista was one as of Cuba’s most celebrated female vocalists, flirted with band members and urged the audience to dance. Eliades Ochoa, on a return engagement with the show, lived up to his name of “Cuba’s Johnny Cash” in a black guayabera and cowboy hat, his tres guitar slung high on his chest. Portuondo and Ochoa, as well as original members trumpet player Guajiro Mirabal and Barbarito Torres, on laud, are also slated for the 2014-2015 farewell trek.
While the current show had the flavor of a classic Cuban music review, it had also moved on to spotlight the more expansive contemporary style of some of its younger members, like pianist Rolando Luna, and Pedro Pablo on bass. Before the end of the night, Buena Vista had the crowd at the Valley Performing Arts Center on its feet.
“There’s a trance you get into [with traditional Cuban music] and it feels good, like drugs or liquor or cigars,” Cooder once said. “It’s hypnotic.”