'Buena Vista Social Club' is chock full of similar smile-inducing moments throughout, as you're introduced, one by one, to the film's principals: senior-citizen musicians who regularly performed at the long defunct Buena Vista Social Club in the 1940s. Included among them are wily nonagenarian guitarist Compay Segundo, powerhouse singer Omara Portuondo (who, well into her 60s at the time of filming, still possessed full command of her womanly charms) and the relatively young guitarist Eliades Ochoa.
Conceived by American slide guitarist Ry Cooder, who was inspired after traveling to Havana to record an album of Cuban music (also titled 'Buena Vista Social Club') in 1996, the film works as part multi-biography, part concert film. As the film journeys from Havana to New York, the movie's elderly musicians never fail to enchant with their reminiscences of a long-gone carefree Cuba and their surprisingly energetic and always inspiring performances.
Although the Castro-controlled Cuba of today (which is same as the Cuba of 1998, when the film was made) bears little resemblance to the one the original Buena Vistans knew, the songs they perform and the way in which they perform them provide a window into a time when their country was a place of cosmopolitan delights rather than urban squalor. Nevertheless, there are no political statements made here nor lamentations about the way it used to be, only joyous music and heartfelt camaraderie among the players.
After the success of 'Buena Vista Social Club,' the twenty or so musicians of the album and film toured the world, performing to packed houses and earning award upon award, honor after honor. Once again they were recognized for their talents and efforts, just as they were so many years earlier, and once again they experienced the joy of performing for appreciative audiences. Ry Cooder's and Wim Wender's 'Buena Vista Social Club' proved an exhilarating, life-affirming experience for them, just as it will you.
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