Everyone at Wolf Trap tonight must have oiled their hips tonight as just about the whole audience was dancing in the aisles by the end of the evening to the Latin beats coming from the stage. The Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club was in town and the rhythms of mambos, merengues, cha-chas, and sambas floated in the hot summer air.
The Buena Vista Social Club began in the 1940s in Havana, Cuba. When the political climate changed, many of these types of social clubs which provided music and dancing were closed in the early 1960s. Also, the advent of salsa music led to a decline in interest and the downturn in the careers of these musicians.
In the 1990s there was a revival of this music and many of the original musicians began to perform as a group called Buena Vista Social Club which was commemorated in the movie of the same name in 1999. The group performed internationally, but due to our strained relationship with Cuba, was sometimes greeted with protests. Now performing as the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club they are recognized internationally and continue with a few of the original group. (The majority have died.) Their resurgence also brought about a new interest in the Latin music of the 40s and 50s (mambo, cha-cha etc.). It has also helped to revive tourism in Cuba.
Their performance started with piano solo and the back screen of the stage is filled with nostalgic photos and film from the music scene in Cuba in the mid-20th century as well as photos of the group in the 1990s that became Buena Vista Social Club.
The first and last portion of the show were visual and musical tributes to the members who have since passed on.
Highlights of the performance were guitar and vocal solos by Eliades Ochoa and vocals by the 84 year-old Omara Portuondo including a torch song sung with just a piano accompaniment by Rolando Luna. Another treat was a dual between laúd (lute) player ‘Barbarito’ Torres, and vocalist Carlos Calunga. When Calunga tried to show up the virtuoso, Torres won the contest when he actually played his instrument behind his back without looking.
Musical Director Aguaje Ramos, who also played the trombone, filled the program with all the right music as most of the audience sang along to songs they recognized. Another favorite piece, and the only non-Latin one, was a rendition of “Over the Rainbow.”
The group tonight performed several encores and the audience would have stayed for several more.
Special recognition should be given to the rhythm sections including Pedro Pablo String bass), Andrés Coayo (congas), Alberto ‘La Noche”(bongos), and ‘Filiberto” Sánchez on timbales (drums). Also the other female vocalist Idania Valdés added a Latin spark with her singing and dancing.
Rounding out the orchestra were ‘Guajiro’ Mirabal, Luis Alemaňy, and ‘Guajirito’ Mirabal on trumpet, and ‘Papi’ Oviedo on guitar. All are top-flight musicians and some go back to the early Social Club days.
The opening act, The Pedrito Martinez Group, is lead by the renowned conga player, Pedrito Martinez. The group is more jazz with a little salsa, a little Afro sound and a touch of hip hop. Edar Pantoja Aleman was on piano, Alvaro Benavides was on bass, and Jhair Sala on drums.
One realized how greatly jazz and Latin music are tied to the music from Africa through the groups interpretations of their music. They played one composition by Pedro Pablo (bassist for Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club) that was jazz, Latin, hip hop, and a little bit of classical music as well. Martinez was awarded Best Percussionist by the Jazz Journalists Association on stage.
With the American flag being raised recently in Cuba once again, maybe we can bring even more of Cuban culture back to our country. All these wonderful musicians were sadly missed for many decades. Hopefully, you will get a chance to see them.
If not, don’t forget how lovely it is to go to Wolf Trap in the warm weather, have a picnic dinner, and enjoy the show.
Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club played for one evening only on Saturday, August 29, 2015 at Wolf Trap– 1635 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA. To see a list of upcoming events at Wolf Trap and to purchase tickets, click here.