Buena Vista Social Club 20th Anniversary

The Buena Vista Social Club was a members’ only club in Havana, Cuba — dating back to Spanish colonial times.

Shortly after the Cuban Revolution of 1959, newly elected Cuban President Manuel Urrutia Lleó, a devout Christian and liberal, began closing casinos, nightclubs, and other establishments associated with Havana’s hedonistic lifestyle — this included The Buena Vista Social Club.

El Presidente’s policies had an immediate impact on the livelihoods of local musicians and forced many of them to go to work in the cigar factories. And as the Cuban government shifted to the left in an effort to create a classless and colorblind society, support for traditional music dwindled and favor was placed on politically charged nueva trova, pop music, and salsa.

Some 38 years later, American guitarist Ry Cooder ventured to Cuba, gathered a plethora of aging traditional Cuban musicians, dubbed them Buena Vista Social Club and released their one and only album of the same name on September 17th, 1997 — exactly 20 years ago. The album eventually became an international sensation and Buena Vista Social Club’s success culminated in a documentary and a performance at Carnegie Hall — sparking a revival in Cuban roots music around the world.

Here is Buena Vista Social Club, leading off with “Chan Chan” — a song that became what Cooder described as “Buena Vista’s calling card”.

Cooder was later prosecuted and fined $25,000 by U.S. authorities for having broken the Trading with the Enemy Act by working on Buena Vista Social Club.

Peace and love from Santiago, Chile.

“We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.” — Sagan


Published by

Charles Johnson

Independent journalist from Far West Texas.