Update: Buena Vista Social Club Returns to U.S., Cue Versailles Restaurant Protests
The legendary geezers are just the latest Cuban musicians to benefit from warmer diplomatic ties between El Supremo and Barack Obama. Or, they're just benefiting from that wave of goodwill that's now been extended to all old people because of Betty White.
You may remember the members of Buena Vista Social Club from a documentary of the same name that was released in 1998. All the members of the band had been headliners during Cuba's musical heyday, in the 40s and 50s. But they'd been mostly forgotten until American guitarist Ry Cooder rediscovered them in the 90s, recording an album, and later a documentary with them. [Video below].
The band then played sold-out shows in Carnegie Hall, and returned in 2003, but they haven't traveled stateside since then.
On Monday, a spokesman announced their traveling visa had been approved, and they would set off for an American and European tour today. The tour is another sign of a thaw in US-Cuba diplomatic relations, at least culturally. Silvio Rodriguez, Carlos Varela and Los Van Van are just a few of the musicians who've performed here this year. Update: Rodriguez, who will end his American tour Wednesday, will retire when he returns to the island, Hugo Cancio tells the Orlando Sentinel.
However, unlike the punks profiled in this week's cover story, Gorki Aguila and Gil Ortiz Pla, these musicians have been allowed out of the island because they've historically been supportive of the Castro government.
That's why exiles routinely protest their appearances, most recently the Los Van Van concert at the James L. Knight Center. In 1998, when the Buena Vista Social Club played in Miami Beach, hundreds of exiles protested the gig, and their venue was even briefly evacuated to check for a bomb threat.
Earlier this year, Rodriguez' manager told Riptide the troubadour was steering clear of Florida because he wanted to avoid a showdown with crazy Cubans. And Buena Vista's Omara Portuondo canceled her own performance at the Fillmore because she couldn't sell enough tickets.
Buena Vista Social Club plays Thursday at Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and two days later at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago.
Below, former member Compay Segundo performing the classic Chan Chan.