Sunday, March 20, 2011

Buena Vista Social Club - Wim Wenders

Although six of the original members of Buena Vista Social Club have died since the band’s Grammy winning album was recorded, the band still tours around the world. This has taken some critics to say that Buena Vista is a brand more than a band. In reality, Buena Vista Social Club was always a brand (actually Ry Cooder’s), which brought Cuban son to the United States and Europe. Cooder has found a market niche in World music: his most recent offspring is a fusion of Irish and Mexican traditional music.

In the case of Buena Vista, Cooder gathered all the musicians (some of them were famous before Buena Vista; others were not), did all the promotion, and eventually took Wim Wenders to film the documentary about the band’s members and their performances in Amsterdam and New York.

 After the album and the film, Cuba’s tourism industry grew exponentially and, from what I have heard, you can find 50,000 bands (probably 5,000,000) in the streets of La Havana who play the same songs as Buena Vista. In a way, Cooder and Wenders have done more for Cuba’s tourism industry than anything else.

Cooder and Wenders has been criticized for showing just a part of Cuban folklore, making the Batista years looking like a golden age, and for commercializing Cuban music and making money. Probably they are, indeed, evil people, but even if they are, I am still of the view that the World is better off after re-discovering Cuban music. Probably there are 5 thousands (or even billions) musicians as good as (or probably better than) Ibrahim Ferrer or Rubén González, but we would not ask ourselves these questions without Buena Vista.  Those who are interested in the answer will always be able to go to Cuba and figure it out.

With the exception of the scene where González is playing in a children gymnasium, Wender’s documentary is awful: the handy-cam that records the scenes in La Havana never stops moving and the voices of the band members when they tell their stories interfere with the music. I do not know how to solve that, I just know that I did not like it.

But anyway, here is the trailer:

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