Buena Vista Social Club: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

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Buena Vista Social Club

Buena Vista Social Club

Bring their Cuban nostalgia to the Philharmonic Hall, Getintothis Luke Traynor caught Buena Vista Social Club in a night of shape throwing and hip swaying. 

It’s a shot in the arm for the allegedly old and wizened when an 85-year-old woman is the person who manages to really kick-start your party.

Vibrant Omara Portuondo appeared midway into this Cuban farewell nostalgia trip and gyrated in a way only a glinting-eyed South American lady can.

The octogenarian diva lifted up her skirt in mischievous can-can-style, urging complete crowd participation while beaming her way through Lagrimas Negras and a stately Veinte Anos off the original, and sole Buena Vista Social Club album from 1997.

A real sense of anticipation gripped Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall, with devotees often rising to salute this Havana musical legacy on their last Adios tour.

No little regret laced this 100-minute trip down memory lane, with poignant on-screen photographic tributes to the Vista founding members, since passed, like the late BVSC’s pianist, the late Rubén González, while current incumbent, the virtuoso and brilliant pianist Rolando Luna, crashed his way through Como Siento Yo.

Also remembered were late bassist Cachaito López, with a solo from surviving member Barbarito Torres, and, of course, bolero singer Ibrahim Ferrer.

Jesus ‘Aguaje’ Ramos led the 13-piece ensemble with vibrant Cuban charisma, in between sliding out the kind of beautiful treble notes rarely heard from a trombone.

No Buena Vista night is complete without the bewitching Chan Chan or wistful Dos Gardenias – perhaps the two best-known of the group’s tracks – captured exquisitely by angelic vocalist Carlos Calunga and as the evening progressed backsides left seats and gave way to swaying hips of intoxicated (by music, not liquor) audience members.

Portuondo won a deserved standing ovation, as did the present founding members (guitarist and laud player Torres and Papi Oviedo, Ramos, and trumpeter Manuel ‘Guajiro’ Mirabal) as eager fans had to be moved from the stalls into a vacant box as their early shape-throwing was disturbing the more sedentary watchers.

But there was no denying the love for these revered veterans whose live performances at the dance hall of the same name in the 1940s sparked a one-off worldwide album smash – half a century later – in the 1990s.

Their sexy lilts do become somewhat repetitive in this more formal and restrained setting (dancefloors and ‘the very best’ dinner party muzak suit this Cuban fare best), but that was a secondary thought on a night when Merseyside took their turn to wave off a South American musical phenomenon whose roots sprang up an incredible 75 years ago.

In related news Nick Gold, known as the architect of the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon, comes to Liverpool John Moores University for an evening of conversation on Thursday 16th April.

His company, World Circuit Records, was also the force behind Talking Timbuktu, Ali Farka Touré’s Grammy-winning album with Ry Cooder as well as Touré‘s 2005 In the Heart of the Moon collaborative album with kora player Toumani Diabaté, who wowed audiences at the city’s St George’s Hall last year, and which also won a Grammy.

To attend the free 11.30am lecture at the John Lennon Art and Design Building, Duckinfield Street, email s.kruger@ljmu.ac.uk.

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