Album Reviews

Buena Vista Social Club – Live At Carneige Hall

(World Circuit) UK release date: 13 October 2008

Buena Vista Social Club - Live At Carneige Hall Ten years after the original release and the documentary that swung its way towards an Oscar, the Buena Vista Social Club finally have a live album released.

The Cuban melodies, the rhythms of son, boléro and danzón are still fresh in the memory. It would be almost impossible not to recognise at least Chan Chan, Dos Gardenias, or Siboney if you heard them. They are contemporary Cuban anthems but what we are likely to remember are the mere studio recordings.

Astonishing as those were, it’s a whole other experience to hear these legendary artists live. This 2-disc album manages to take us closer to the heart of that particular type of experience than the most any live shows ever recorded.

Anyone who saw Wim Wenders’s Academy award-winning documentary knows that show in New York’s Carnegie Hall in the summer of 1998 was chock-full of passion and emotion. The force of history came to a head, an almighty apex exposed for the world. Musicians in their 70s, 80s and 90s all came together to celebrate and mourn an era gone by and the new lease of vitality it had begun to secure. The snippets shown in the film struck chords from across the cinema screen and audiences have wanted to hear more ever since.

Tragically no one on this earth will ever be able to hear all of ‘the club’ together again. Ruben Gonzalez, Ibrahim Ferrer and Compay Segundo have all passed on to a jam session in the sky. Hearing them on their finest form on this album has a particularly potent poignancy.

The gentlemen are charismatic, caressing and cornerstones of the Havana collective. Their performances are refreshed with nuance and excited, even youthful, interaction.

Eliades Ochoa and Omara Portuondo are still with us and still tour, much to the delight of the thousands that manage to get tickets. However few will be as tangibly thrilled throughout as the audience in that room that night. Unsurprisingly you find yourself cheering along as the senior stars continue to consolidate the interests in Cuba’s contribution to world music. If that wasn’t enough then it should be pointed out that all members of the Buena Vista Social Club only ever performed together twice – this was the final time.

The package comes jam packed with goodies including a souvenir ticket of the show, a massive sleevenote by Ry Cooder and the musicians themselves, unpublished photos from the evening and opportunities for free downloadable material. The classic decade old album sold eight million copies, making it the biggest selling ‘world music’ album ever: so one wonders what took so long for us to get this once-in-a-lifetime, wonderful work into our hands and into our ears.

The 16 tracks here aren’t just duplicate recordings – with sudden new depth we are able to complete an emotive, triumphant musical triptych.

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More on Buena Vista Social Club
Buena Vista Social Club – Live At Carneige Hall
Buena Vista Social Club @ Laugardalshöllin, Reykjavik