It’s a cultural watershed that children of the Cold War might never have imagined possible. The Cuban ensemble of legendary musicians known as Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club will play the White House on Thursday, October 15, closing out a series of events celebrating Hispanic Heritage month. As noted by Fox News Latino, their performance will be the first White House show by a Cuban band in over 50 years.
As noted on the official Buena Vista Social Club website, the group rose to fame in the United States through the efforts of American musician Ry Cooder, who traveled to Cuba in 1996. While there, Cooder met with a number of celebrated Cuban musicians, participating in a series of recording sessions with the artists that ultimately produced the Grammy award-winning album Buena Vista Social Club. Director Wim Wenders collaborated with Cooder in a documentary film about the Cuban musicians in 1998, which was also entitled Buena Vista Social Club.
A prominent and critically acclaimed act, Buena Vista Social Club performed around the world and individual members released solo albums in the years following their breakthrough success. Many of the artists involved in Cooder’s original project were elderly, though, and a number of them have passed on since 2000.
Now billed as Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club, the group includes original members Omara Portuondo and Eliades Ochoa, as well as Carlos Calunga and pianist Rolanda Luna. The White House appearance comes in the midst of their “farewell tour.”
Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club White House performance follows a series of pivotal developments between the United States and Cuba, which have not maintained normal diplomatic relations since 1961. Earlier this year, the United States and Cuba finally and formally patched things up leading to a formal meeting between American President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro. Raúl is the brother of Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro, who led his country for decades after overthrowing the dictatorial Batista regime in 1959. In 2008, as the result of his declining health, Fidel passed power to his brother.
In a radio interview for PRI, Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club guitarist Eliades Ochoa noted that that the success of Buena Vista Social club has made an indelible imprint upon the history and future of Cuban music.
“Traditional Cuban music isn’t going to die, especially now, because, since the Buena Vista Social Club, there are a lot of small groups, everywhere in Havana, in Cuba playing,” said Ochoa. “You can ask them, do you know ‘El Cuarto de Tula?’ Do you know ‘El Carretero?’ Do you know ‘Chan Chan?’ Do you know ‘Candela?’ And everybody knows the songs. And all the small groups have learned all of these tunes, and they picked it up from the Buena Vista Social Club.”
Ochoa also hailed the new spirit of cooperation between the United States and Cuba, expressing enthusiasm that the benefits of collaboration between the nations will benefit artists, as well as many others.
“…the joy that we get from such an agreement is always going to be good for everybody. I would love to be able to share and record with American musicians that, because [of] the previous political situation, could not go to Cuba.”
The group will play a number of other concerts throughout the United States this year before heading south for shows in Mexico and South America. Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club have also scheduled shows in the Middle East and Asia for late 2015 and 2016.
[Images via World Circuit via YouTube; Patrick Riviere/Getty Images; and Anthony Behar-Pool/Getty Images]