Buena Vista Social Club

Buena Vista Social Club was a social club in La Habana, Cuba. Its members carried out activities related to dancing and music.

BVSC started in the 40s as a Havanan society for black people. Prior to Cuba’s social changes in 1959, there were societies from different ethnic groups: black, Spanish and Chinese, to name a few. In the first group, some of the most famous were Unión Fraternal, Las Águilas, Mariano Social, Atenas, Antillas, Isora, Jóvenes del Vals and Club Social Buena Vista, founded in 1932 in the Havanan quarter of Buena Vista.

Members would pay a monthly fee and a director would watch the behaviour, above all, that couples would not squeeze while dancing ‘el danzón’. There were etiquette rules. Wearing a suit or a guayabera, and two-color shoes was compulsory. Women had to be impeccable. The most popular groups attended the dancing parties: Arsenio Rodríguez, René Alvarez y Los Astros, Chocolate, Modelo (in the 50s), Chapottín. La Orquesta Ideal, Neno González, Pedrito Calvo, Charanga de Orestes López, Cheo Belén Puig, Típica de Aniceto Díaz, Orquesta Elegante con Cheo Marquetti, Típica de Silvio Contreras, Armando Valdespí, Eliseo Grenet, Estanislao Servía, Arcaño y sus Maravillas. The Club offered popular dancing, although some people with a more aristocratic behaviour hired more refined bands.

In the 90s, almost 50 years alter the Club’s closure; its memory inspired a recording made by Cuban musician Juan de Marcos González and North-American guitarist Ry Cooder with other traditional Cuban musicians. Many of those were original members of the Club and had made their debut at its most popular time. The recording, called ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ to honor the Havanan institution, was an international success and the whole group performed in Amsterdam in 1998. Wim Wenders, a German cinema director, shot the concert live followed by another one at the Carnegie Hall, New York. This one put the finishing touches to the filmmaker’s documentary, which includes interviews with the musicians in the Cuban capital. The movie, also called ‘Buena Vista Social Club’, was critically acclaimed and got an Oscar nomination for Best Long Documentary. It also got the Best Documentary at the European Film Awards.

Both the album’s and the movie success generated a great interest in traditional Cuban music and Latin-American music worldwide. Some musicians released solo albums that had quite the success and recorded others together with international stars from a range of genres. BVSC became a term that would define this kind of musical activity, apart from being in touch with the etiquette representing the Golden Age of Cuban Music (30s-50s).

Success was brief for most members of the group: Manuel Licea, Compay Segundo, Rubén González, Ibrahim Ferrer and Pío Leyva, who died in the early 21st Century. Others like Omara Portuondo, Elíades Ochoa, Manuel ‘Guajiro’ Mirabal (trumpet), Amadito Valdés (percussionist), Barbarito Torres (lute), Ry Cooder (guitar), his son Joachim Cooder (percussionist), Juan de Marcos González (producer), and Papi Oviedo (tresista).

  • Guitarist Ry Cooder’s most famous collaboration took place in cinema when he composed the original soundtrack for ‘Paris Texas’, movie by German director Wim Wenders (1984).
  • The album ‘Rhythms del Mundo’ (2006) is inspired on BVSC’s work. El Lele de los Van Van performed a previously translated version of Radiohead’s ‘High & Dry’.
  • Compay Segundo became most famous when he took part in the album ‘Buena Vista Social Club’, 1997. It got several Grammy Awards.
Tipo Trabajo Año
music Buena Vista Social Club 1997
music Buena Vista Social Club at Carnegie Hall 2008
music Lost and Found 2015

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