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Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club bid farewell to Ireland


Eliades Ochoa of Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club. Photo: Colm Kelly

Eliades Ochoa of Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club. Photo: Colm Kelly

Eliades Ochoa of Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club. Photo: Colm Kelly

All good things must eventually come to an end. The Buena Vista Social Club started life as a members' only social club in the Marianao neighbourhood of Havana in the 1940s.

Its surviving members took an opportunity to wave goodbye to an Irish audience for one last time over the Bank holiday weekend. It has been a truly astonishing journey. After laying dormant for nearly 50 years, a collaboration between Ry Cooder and Cuban band leader Juan de Marcos Gonvalez led to a documentary by renowned German director Wim Wenders. The subsequent album became an unexpected crossover hit and brought feelgood music from the Havana suburbs to the stereos of the world.

When they finally tasted success, original Buena Vista henchmen Compay Segundo, Rubén González and Ibrahim Ferrer were all in the advanced twilight of their careers.

In May 1998, the Buena Vista Social Club headlined a concert at the now defunct Heineken Green Energy festival in Dublin's Smithfield. Coincidentally, Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers were also on the festival's bill that year, just after they became the first Western act to play a live concert in Cuba.

It is not that fanciful a notion to suggest that Buena Vista Social Club deserve their own share of credit for easing the cold war between Cuba and the west. They helped popularize the country's musical and cultural heritage while inadvertently contributing to the now ubiquitous global obsession with salsa classes.

Sadly, there is a definite end in sight as the surviving members of the collective bid farewell to the world during 2014 and 2015 with their poignant 'Adios tour'. The Concert Hall performance is only their fourth stop-off this summer on a tour calling to France, Spain, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands before culminating in a last European hurrah in Istanbul in October.

It is worth the admission price alone to witness 83 year old Cuban singer Omaha Portuondo's spellbinding performance. There appears to be an unwritten rule in Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club - the latest line-up - that you must sing or play with a smile on your face. For nearly two hours, the 13-piece band dazzle and delight with a performance of remarkable energy and enthusiasm.

Their music will continue to enthral future generations. The Buena Vista Social Club is dead. Long live Buena Vista Social Club.

Eamon Sweeney

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