Album reviews

Buena Vista Social Club (25th Anniversary Edition)

Buena Vista Social Club (25th Anniversary Edition – 2LP + 2CD Deluxe Bookpack)

(World Circuit. Album Review by John Bungey)

It was the nostalgic celebration of a lost Cuba that found a global audience and pushed bemused vintage musicians blinking into the world spotlight. Masterminded by guitarist Ry Cooder and producer Nick Gold, the seven days of recordings by Ibrahim Ferrer, Compay Segundo, Ruben Gonzalez et al were conjured into an eight million-selling album. As a sales phenomenon – world music’s own Dark Side of the Moon – these gloriously catchy, familiar but faintly exotic tunes charmed all-comers – with the possible exception of a few broadsheet jazz critics. (Suddenly world music wasn’t just a gaggle of throat singers and djembe players but a credible commercial genre threatening to muscle jazz out of its jealously guarded remaining column inches.)

Anyway, here’s a lavishly packaged anniversary edition with a second album of 12 outtakes, with new liner notes, photos, 64-page book in assorted formats … you know the drill. This isn’t the first dive into the vaults – Buena Vista Lost & Found back in 2015 exhumed at least two tracks from the 1996 sessions that were worthy of the original album. Other takes have appeared on solo albums.

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So can anything more be squeezed out of the Buena Vista brand? On the whole, yes. If the original album is the performance, then CD two is the after-show party. The sunny Vicenta with its singing guitars and shared vocals is the best of the finds. Three tracks are piano impromptus from Gonzalez, likeable but clearly not meant for publication and Ensayo is just a one-minute guitar scrap. There’s a good deal of studio chatter, too. More substantially, we get six worthwhile alternative takes – sometimes rough around the edges but unpolished authenticity was always part of the charm here. It amounts to an enjoyable new view of that week at the ancient Egrem studios.

With so many of the troupe gone – Omara Portuondo at 90 is the redoutable survivor – this release is surely the last word on a unique, accidental musical moment. The original plan had been to record Cuban musicians with visiting Malian players but visa problems meant the Africans never arrived. (That project was eventually recorded as AfroCubism and released in 2010 but never had the same clout.) Here are the songs of old Havana recorded when they were long out of fashion and yet seeming delightfully timeless.

Buena Vista Social Club (25th Anniversary Edition) is released on 17 September 2021

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