A Tropical Evening With Buena Vista Social Club

El Social Club de Buena Vista, or the Buena Vista Social Club, is a collection of the best representatives of Cuban music ever to be exported from the island nation 90 miles south of Florida. Back in the year 2000, a documentary following guitarist Ry Cooder into Cuba won an Academy Award, exposing these Cuban musical treasures to the world. Sadly, many of the original members of the crew have passed away, including crooner Ibrahim Ferrer, guitarist Compay Segundo, and master pianist Rubén González.

The remaining members carry the torch with honor, and are currently on a 17-city American tour after a successful run through the UK. The members include laud virtuoso Barbarito Torres, tres guitar player Eliades Ochoa, "The Trumpet of Cuba" Guajiro Mirabal, and lovely songstress Omara Portuondo. Rocks Off lucky enough to see la orquesta in Austin's Long Center for The Performing Arts in anticipation of the 2013 Austin City Limits Music Festival, which begins today. [Watch us all weekend for further ACL coverage -- ed.]

The night began with a festive intro with Barbarito taking center stage. The man sports more gray hair than we saw in the documentary, but plays with the same smile and vigor as we remember. The conga player was given an early solo, perhaps as to invigorate the already attentive audience. Guajiro Mirabal was flanked by someone the program named as Guajirito Mirabal, whom we can only guess is the elder's son. Both provided excited, smooth, yet flashy deliveries to their trumpet notes.

A danzón, the national dance of Cuba, followed. This rhythmically slowed-down musical genre entices the listener to sway with the flowing tunes of the percussion and piano. For the first of many times throughout the night, members of the audience began to dance in the aisles. In fact, dancing was encouraged -- even one of the ushers became overcome by the emotion of the music and danced all night long. The "Santa Lucia Danzón" included an inspired piano and trombone solo, each resulting in a roaring cheer from the crowd.

There were definitely more than a few Cubanos in the audience, and their cheers of "Viva Cuba!" were acknowledged and reciprocated by the orquesta. Eliadas Ochoa was next to arrive onstage, bringing with him classic Buena Vista tracks "Chan Chan" and "El Carretero." "Para mi familia!" he shouted, visibly enamored with the Austin crowd. The 15-member group moved with a calculated chaos, with each finger, hand, and horn serving its own purpose yet totally in sync with the rest of the ensemble. It was nothing short of magical.

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At last, the lady in red approached the stage. Omara Portuondo serves as the matriarch of this boys' club, bringing with her the love, emotion, and sultriness that only a Caribbean woman can offer. More than ten years ago, we saw a much younger Portuondo perform at Houston's Jones Hall. Now, thin and almost frail, she walks slowly and with caution. But her mind is sharp, voice is smooth, and her hips still sway with a mischievous intent.

She sang "No Me Llores Mas" with a smile and energy of a much younger woman, lifting her dress to showcase her dance moves and enticing the crowd to stand up and clap along. The classic song "Quizas, Quizas, Quizas" was met with approval of the audience, who sang along in unison with the chorus, marking one of the most memorable moments of the evening. As the performance came to a close, the song "El Cuarto De Tula" made the performance hall shake with emotion, dancing, and sincere love.

After a thunderous request for an encore, the band obliges with the gorgeous "Dos Gardenias", the playful "Candela," and an a cappella version of "Guantanamera."

Love, harmony, dance, and heart are some of what makes life beautiful and interesting, and we found all of that in the extraordinary group of talent called the Buena Vista Social Club. Like them, there will never be another.

¡Viva Cuba!


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