It’s been seven decades since anyone actually stepped into the Buena Vista Social Club, a members-only hangout in Havana, where some of the island’s most skillful singers and musicians pioneered a distinctive Afro-Cuban mezcla of jazz, mambo, charanga, cha-cha-cha, rumba, and son.
The club closed in the 1940s, over a decade before Castro’s revolution and the forced shutdown of many similar Cuban nightspots in the early ‘60s. But since some of that original scene’s essential players reemerged following Cuban musicians Juan de Marcos González and American guitarist Ry Cooder’s Buena Vista Social Club album in 1997, this legendary, long-shuttered establishment has become a symbol of a lost Havana.
Of course, the Buena Vista Social Club also became a movie, as well as the banner under which the surviving musicians of that era tour the world.
Since ’97, though, six of the collective’s core figures have died: Ibrahim Ferrer, Compay Segundo, Rubén González, Orlando “Cachaíto” Lopez, Pío Leyva, and Manuel “Puntillita” Licea.