Enjoy them while you can.

2010.11.08

There was a nice piece in the New York Times about the visit of the American Ballet Theater to Havana. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/08/arts/dance/08abt.html?ref=arts

It was the first time the company had been there since 1960, when the U.S. Embargo against Cuba went into effect. The piece talks about expanding cultural ties between our countries. Good luck with that. A slight loosening of the regulations under the Obama administration  has allowed several Cuban music groups to perform in the United States, and brought pianist Chu Chu Valdez and Buena Vista Social Club diva, Omara Portuondo on tours earlier this year. If you enjoy Cuban art and music, I strongly suggest you see them while you can. The dark days may be coming back.

With the Republican victory in last week’s elections, expect more of the anti-Cuban legislation which could limit Visas for musicians like Chu Chu and Omara. Their crime is that they return to Cuba every time they leave. Can you imagine, wanting to return to their homeland?  The radical Miami-Cubans can’t, as long as Raul or Fidel Castro remains in the government.  They insist if you leave Cuba, you must stay away until the Castro brothers are gone. Think about that. A foreign government telling the citizens of a sovereign country who can or cannot be their leader. It’s exactly what we do in the Helms-Burton Act, an internationally ridiculed piece of legislation  which serves to keep the embargo in place until WE get the government we want running Cuba.

With the expected move making Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the election of the equally radical exile Marco Rubio to the Senate, there is no telling what legislation these two will cook up to try once again to reverse the results of the Cuban Revolution.  It does not matter to them that they are taking away your rights as an American to freely visit a peaceful and friendly country.

Since you can’t go to Cuba and see her yourself, here’s Omara performing at the Club Las Vegas in Central Havana. Please be forewarned; there may be actual Socialists in the crowd.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEgXKB8s_l0

Final Encore for The Buena Vista Social Club

2010.08.14

It has been about a decade since the world was introduced to The Buena Vista Social Club. The group of retired, and or forgotten, traditional Cuban musicians came together in Havana in 1996 to produce an album with American musician Ry Cooder.

A documentary of the same name in 1999 became a worldwide hit, and started a revival of the “son” style of music they performed. After three U.S. dates, they will leave on a tour of Europe, where they remain immensely popular to play 25 concerts.

In the intervening years, some of the best-known members of the group have died, including singers Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer and Pio Leiva, pianist Ruben Gonzalez and bass player Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez.

As a documentary film producer, I’ve made 30 trips to Cuba over the past decade,  have worked with members of Buena Vista on many occasions, and have seen various amalgamations of the group perform dozens of times in Cuba, sometimes to hundreds of tourists at the Hotel National, but often in small clubs, rehearsal halls, or even in their own homes.

During an interview in his Havana apartment, percussionist Amadito Valdes pulled out a snare and laid down his back beat so that I could better understand the point he was making about the music. Unfortunately, Amidito won’t be able to make it due to health reasons, and in the seven years since their last American tour, several of the original group have died.

It was announced that Omara Portuando, the group’s female vocalist (arguably the most famous Cuban musician in the world) would not make the trip, but fortunately she will. Semi-retired, she lives the life of a star, but a star in Cuba is not the same as a star in Hollywood. She can be seen driving around Havana in her Russian made Lada, singing along to the CD player and waving to fans. She performs only on some special occasions for benefits.

After one such show in which female Cuban film and television stars modeled the clothes of a young designer, she gave a 10 minute acappella concert on the street, inviting everyone to join in. It was like Barbara Streisand standing on a Manhattan street corner, singing “On a Clear Day” as the city went by. You were tempted to look around to find the cameras, but it wasn’t a Hollywood musical it was Havana, and these things happen in Cuba.

On another occasion I was invited to attend the “Pena “of Olga Navarro at the 1950’s Club Las Vegas. A “Pena” is an ongoing variety show, and there are many held throughout the capitol each month. The performers work for free since they are friends of the host. Olga Navarro is a composer, poet and actress who came out of the golden age of Cuban Film. Olga told me that she had a special guest and that I shouldn’t miss that week’s show.  The guest was Omara, who did a 30 minute set, which was as intimate and heartfelt as I’d seen.  And you couldn’t beat the price; at ten Cuban pesos, the living legend was singing to an audience that was 99% Cuban, for fifty cents.

Members of the group have all been working regularly since the popularity of the documentary reached all corners of the world.  In Havana, a flyer advertising a  Buena Vista Social Club concert must be examined closely, since it often features just one of the original members playing with a group of back-up musicians. But the performances seldom disappoint.

Since our government prohibits most of its citizens from traveling to Cuba, Americans could not catch even these concerts.  And during the Bush years, the draconian enforcement of the embargo against Cuba prohibited these artists from getting the necessary visas to bring them here. Although loved by most Cubans world-wide, they are despised by the leadership of the exile community because they travel the world, then go back to live in Cuba. This conflicts with the Miami based propaganda that everyone wants to defect and leave the island.  It is only because of a slight thaw in cultural relations under the Obama administration that some Cuban musicians and artists have been given permission to come.

After the show at the Club Las Vegas, I asked Omara about playing the world’s grand concert halls as opposed to a small club in Havana.  “This is my home. These are my people, my friends and so it is always an honor to perform for them” she told me. But I was the one who felt honored and sorry for my fellow Americans kept away by politics.

keywords: Buena Vista Social Club, Cuban Music, Omara Portuando, Cuban Embargo, Cuba Travel Ban, US Cuba Relations, Castro, Fidel, Fidel Castro, Socialists description: The Buena Vista Social Club Concerts 2010 title: Final Encore for The Buena Vista Social Club robotsmeta: index,follow