Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club featuring Omara Portuondo & Eliades Ochoa
Photo © Alejandro Perez
Buena Vista Social Club® released its only studio album, produced by Ry Cooder, in 1997 and achieved instant success. The album, featuring a specially assembled group of veteran Cuban musicians, was further propelled by Wim Wenders’ acclaimed film and later by a series of international tours and albums by many of the featured musicians. Buena Vista Social Club became a phenomenon.
Now in 2013, following a series of hugely successful performances in recent years, the 13-piece Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club which features a number of Buena Vista Social Club alumni make their eagerly awaited return to the world’s stages.
The Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club live performances have been praised by the UK press for “taking the atmosphere up to a breathless level” (The Independent); and leaving audiences “awestruck” (Financial Times). At the forefront of the group are three musicians who will be recognized from the Buena Vista Social Club film: trumpeter Guajiro Mirabal, laud virtuoso Barbarito Torres and trombonist Jesus ‘Aguaje’ Ramos. A younger generation of Cuban musicians is represented by such talents as the vocalists Carlos Calunga and Idania Valdes, virtuoso pianist Rolando Luna and joining his grandfather on trumpet, Guajirito Mirabal.
Joining this expanded lineup of Cuban players is vocalist Omara Portuondo, a member of the original Buena Vista Social Club, whose 2008 recording Gracias (World Village/Montuno) won a Latin Grammy and scored a Grammy nomination. Portuondo has been singing and performing since she was a teenager in Cuba in the 1940s but, as the New York Times review of Gracias noted, the years have done nothing to mitigate her vocal prowess: “Her voice is rich, shapely, dynamic and still sultry.” The Los Angeles Times described her voice as formidably potent and emotionally limber instrument, noted that “her 100-minute set in San Francisco showed that she’s an even bigger talent onstage.”
Guajiro Mirabal’s distinctive trumpet sound and the personality embodied in his playing have earned him the moniker “The Trumpet of Cuba”. His blistering tribute to the son conjuntos of the great Arsenio Rodriguez, Buena Vista Social Club Presents Manuel Guajiro Miraba was nominated for a GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMY, and its release was met with widespread praise: “Mirabal’s stunning performances recapture the bonhomie and verve that endeared the son montuno style to all within earshot.” (The Wire)
Jesus ‘Aguaje’ Ramos’ trombone has been an integral part of World Circuit’s Cuban recordings for more than a decade and both his playing and bandleading skills have also made him a key feature on tours by Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo. As musical director for Omara Portuondo and Ruben Gonzalez he gained attention on the international stage: “…he understands how to truly make the trombone sing.” (Boston Globe)
Barbarito Torres was musical director for Celina Gonzalez’s Grupo Campoalegre and worked with many of the biggest names in Cuban music as well as international stars such as Oscar de Leon. He has also played with the Afro-Cuban All Stars and his solo album Havana Cafe featured guest appearances by Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo.
The past few years have been tremendously successful for the orchestra. Playing sellouts in renowned venues including the Paris Olympia, London’s Royal Albert Hall, Barcelona’s Liceu, the Konzerthaus in Vienna, Luna Park in Buenos Aires as well as prestigious festivals around the globe.
Each of these artists has his or her own take on a wide range of Cuban music styles and has put an individual stamp on son montunos, danzon, cha cha cha, boleros, and Cuban jazz. Having honed their skills over many years their passion for the music remains undimmed and this remarkable group of musical giants performs with an exuberance that is as vital as ever.