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Monday, 9 April, 2001, 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK
Joining the Buena Vista Social Club
Ibrahim Ferrer
Ibrahim Ferrer was a complete unknown even in Cuba
By BBC News Online's Olive Clancy

The Buena Vista Social Club gave a free concert in downtown Havana to celebrate the anniversary of the Cuban revolution.

I happened to be in town and decided to go along.

Given the phenomenal success of the group and their sell-out concerts all over Europe, I was sure that I would have to stand outside but thought I could maybe soak up the atmosphere anyway.

Omara Portuondo
Omara Portuondo - Cuba┐s 'musical sweetheart'
But though the concert was busy, it was by no means full and I made my way to the front of a balcony and was treated to the concert of my life.

The Buena Vista Social Club may still be known as los superabuelos (the super-grandfathers) in Havana, but to the world they are dazzling.

When composer and guitarist Ry Cooder gathered together a group of ageing musicians to put together an album of unfashionable, but remarkable, Cuban songs, he could not have dreamed of the success the record would be.

They included once-legendary but then forgotten musicians like Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzalez, Eliades Ochoa and Omara Portuondo.

As the Wim Wenders documentary which charted the process showed, Cooder and Cuban colleague Marco Gonzalez had to persuade the musicians to take part.

Gonzalez did not even own a piano.

Wenders - who directed Wings of Desire and Paris Texas - described the experience as "amazing".

Ruben Gonzalez
Ruben Gonzalez was a star in 1940s Havana
The documentary itself is a sepia-tinted homage to Cuban music and the personalities of these brilliant performers.

The album alone sold more than one million copies and won a Grammy award in 1998 - launching the musicians to fame and fortune which they had thought had passed them by.

The success of the Buena Vistas has its roots in the UK.

Nick Gold, of the World Circuit record label, was working back in 1996 with Ry Cooder to find an original showcase for his work.

Gold had been trying to nurture Cuban traditional music for some time and had recorded the Cuban bandleader Juan de Marcos Gonzalez.

It was Gonzalez who suggested the project and persuaded the musicians out of retirement, ensuring that the project happened in a country that is still extremely suspicious of outside interference.

What The Buena Vista Social Club do is rather dated, if excellently played and beautiful music.

It is the story of those charming octogenarian musicians getting it together and ending up with sell-out concerts from Hong Kong to New York which really captivated the audience.

Since their initial success several artists have had spin-off albums which have also sold well.

Singers Omara Portuondo and Ibrahim Ferrer, pianist Ruben Gonzalez and bassist Cachaito Lopez are some of the big solo successes.

If The Buena Vista Social Club are not mobbed in Havana as they are elsewhere in the world, it is because Cuba is full of world-class musicians just waiting to be discovered.

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