Buena Vista Social Club (album)

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Buena Vista Social Club
Studio album by Buena Vista Social Club
Released September 16, 1997
Recorded March 1996 (over seven days[1])
at Egrem studio, Havana,[1] Cuba
Genre Son cubano, bolero, descarga, danzón, guajira, criolla
Length 60:00
Label World Circuit, Nonesuch
Producer Ry Cooder
Buena Vista Social Club chronology
Buena Vista Social Club
At Carnegie Hall
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars[2]
Entertainment Weekly B+[3]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[4]
Vibe (favorable)[5]

Buena Vista Social Club is a studio album by Cuban bandleader and musician Juan de Marcos González and American guitarist Ry Cooder with traditional Cuban musicians, released on September 16, 1997 on World Circuit Records.


The album was produced by Cooder who travelled to Cuba to record sessions with the local musicians, many of whom were previously largely unknown outside Cuba. The musicians and the songs would later appear in the documentary of the same name Buena Vista Social Club by director Wim Wenders.

The music featured on the album was inspired by the Buena Vista Social Club, a membership club that was at its height during the 1940s and 1950s. Many of the musicians performing on the record were either former performers at the club or were prominent Cuban musicians during the era of the club's existence. Other younger musicians on the record trace their musical roots back to pre-revolutionary Cuban music, mainly the famous Havana musical scene of the 1950s.

Buena Vista Social Club earned considerable critical praise and has received numerous accolades from music writers and publications.[6] In 2003, the album was ranked number 260 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time,[7] one of only two albums on the list to be produced in a non-English speaking country. The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[8] As of 2015, the album has sold over 12 million copies.[9]



In 1996, American guitarist Ry Cooder had been invited to Havana by British world music producer Nick Gold of World Circuit Records to record a session where two African High-life musicians from Mali were to collaborate with Cuban musicians.[10] On Cooder's arrival (via Mexico to avoid the ongoing U.S. trade and travel embargo against Cuba),[11] it transpired that the musicians from Africa had not received their visas and were unable to travel to Havana. Cooder and Gold changed their plans and decided to record an album of Cuban son music with local musicians.[10] Already on board the African collaboration project were Cuban musicians including bassist Orlando "Cachaito" López, guitarist Eliades Ochoa and musical director Juan de Marcos González, who had himself been organizing a similar project for the Afro-Cuban All Stars. A search for additional musicians led the team to singer Manuel "Puntillita" Licea, pianist Rubén González and octogenarian singer Compay Segundo, who all agreed to record for the project.[10]

Within three days of the project's birth, Cooder, Gold and de Marcos had organized a large group of performers and arranged for recording sessions to commence at Havana's EGREM Studios, formerly owned by RCA records, where the equipment and atmosphere had remained unchanged since the 1950s.[12] Communication between the Spanish and English speakers at the studio was conducted via an interpreter, although Cooder reflected that "musicians understand each other through means other than speaking".[10] The album was awarded the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album and Tropical/Salsa Album of the Year By a Group at the 1998 Billboard Latin Music Awards.[13][14]


The album was recorded in just six days and contained fourteen tracks; opening with "Chan Chan" written by Compay Segundo, a five-chord son (Dm, F, C7, Gm, A) that was to become what Cooder described as "the Buena Vista's calling card";[15] and ending with a rendition of "La Bayamesa", a traditional Cuban patriotic song (not to be confused with the Cuban national anthem of the same name).[16] The sessions also produced material for the subsequent release, Introducing...Rubén González, which showcased the work of the Cuban pianist.[11]


"Chan Chan", the first song on the album, is a Cuban song composition revolving around two central characters, Juanita and Chan Chan.[17] The song was one of Compay Segundo's last compositions and was written in 1987, already having been recorded by himself at various times.

"El Cuarto de Tula" is sung by Eliades Ochoa with Ibrahim Ferrer and Manuel "Puntillita" Licea joining Ochoa in an extended descarga (jam) section improvising lyrics. Barbarito Torres plays a frenetic lute solo towards the end of the track. Timbales are played by the 13-year-old Julienne Oviedo Sánchez. The song is featured in the 2001 film Training Day.[18]

"Dos Gardenias" is a bolero sung by Ibrahim Ferrer. The song was written in the 1930s and became a huge success in the 1940s. The song was chosen for the album after Cooder heard Ferrer and Rubén González improvising the melody before a recording session. Ferrer learned the song while playing with Cuban bandleader Beny Moré.[19]

"¿Y Tú Qué Has Hecho?" was written in the 1920s and features Compay Segundo on tres and vocals. Segundo was traditionally a "second voice" singer providing a baritone counterpoint harmony. On this recording, he multitracks both voices. The song also features a duet between Segundo on tres and Ry Cooder on guitar.[20]

"Veinte Años" is a bolero sung by the only female in the ensemble, Omara Portuondo, with Segundo providing baritone.[21]

"El Carretero" is a guajira (country lament) sung by Eliades Ochoa with the full ensemble providing additional instruments and backing vocals.

"Candela" is a popular song with lyrics rich with sexual innuendo, sung by Ibrahim Ferrer who improvises vocal lines throughout the track, and the whole ensemble perform an extended descarga.

The title track, "Buena Vista Social Club", was written by bass player Cachaíto’s father, Orestes López.[10] The song spotlights the piano work of Rubén González. It was recorded after Cooder heard González improvising around the tune's musical theme before a day's recording session. After playing the tune, González explained to Cooder the history of the social club and that the song was the club's "mascot tune".[10] When searching for a name for the overall project, manager Nick Gold chose the song's title. According to Cooder, "It should be the thing that sets it apart. It was a kind of club by then. Everybody was hanging out and we had rum and coffee around two in the afternoon. It felt like a club, so let’s call it that. That’s what gave it a handle."[10]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Chan Chan"   Compay Segundo 4:16
2. "De Camino a la Vereda"   Ibrahim Ferrer 5:03
3. "El Cuarto de Tula"   Sergio González Siaba 7:27
4. "Pueblo Nuevo"   Cachao 6:05
5. "Dos Gardenias"   Isolina Carrillo 3:02
6. "¿Y Tú Qué Has Hecho?"   Eusebio Delfín 3:13
7. "Veinte Años"   María Teresa Vera 3:29
8. "El Carretero"   Guillermo Portabales 3:28
9. "Candela"   Faustino Oramas 5:27
10. "Amor de Loca Juventud"   Rafael Montiel Ortíz 3:21
11. "Orgullecida"   Eliseo Silveira 3:18
12. "Murmullo"   Electo "Chepín" Rosell 3:50
13. "Buena Vista Social Club"   Orestes "Macho" López 4:50
14. "La Bayamesa"   Sindo Garay 2:54

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1997)[2] Peak
Billboard Top Latin Albums 1
Billboard Top World Music 1
Billboard Tropical Albums 1
Billboard Top 200 80

Sales and certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
United States (RIAA)[22] Platinum 1,000,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Buena Vista Social Club's "Lost and Found," Collection of Previously Unreleased Tracks, Due March 23". Nonesuch Records. 3 February 2015. Retrieved 13 May 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Steve McMullen (1997-09-16). "Buena Vista Social Club - Buena Vista Social Club | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  3. ^ Dimitri Ehrlich (1997-10-03). "Buena Vista Social Club Review | Music Reviews and News". EW.com. Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  4. ^ "Buena Vista Social Club: Buena Vista Social Club : Music Reviews : Rolling Stone". Replay.waybackmachine.org. 1997-09-18. Archived from the original on December 6, 2008. Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  5. ^ "Music: Buena Vista Social Club (CD) by Buena Vista Social Club (Artist)". Tower.com. 1997-09-16. Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  6. ^ AcclaimedMusic: Buena Vista Social Club. AcclaimedMusic.net. Retrieved on February 9, 2009.
  7. ^ RS500: Buena Vista Social Club. Rolling Stone. Retrieved on February 9, 2009.
  8. ^ Robert Dimery; Michael Lydon (23 March 2010). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: Revised and Updated Edition. Universe. ISBN 978-0-7893-2074-2. 
  9. ^ Cantor-Navas, Judy (March 19, 2015). "Buena Vista Social Club Readies 'Lost and Found' Album, Final Tour". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved March 24, 2015. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g "Interview with Ry Cooder" in Los Angeles, by Betty Arcos, host, “The Global Village”, Pacifica Radio, June 27, 2000. Buena Vista Social Club site. PBS.org. Retrieved March 18, 2007.
  11. ^ a b "Hurricane Cooder hits Cuba". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved March 20, 2007
  12. ^ Compay Segundo Obituary Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved March 18, 2007.
  13. ^ "40th Annual Grammy Awards – 1998". Rock On The Net. February 25, 1998. Retrieved June 1, 2011. 
  14. ^ Cantor, Judy (April 18, 1998). "Latino Artists Honored With Billboard Awards". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. 110 (16): 77. Retrieved June 4, 2010. 
  15. ^ "Life began at ninety" Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved March 18, 2007.
  16. ^ Las Bayamesas. La Jiribilla magazine. Juventud Rebelde. Retrieved March 18, 2007. "Desde finales de la segunda década del siglo pasado hasta nuestros días, no hay dudas de que en Bayamo se han escrito otras hermosas e importantes obras musicales, que podrían también llamarse bayamesas. Nadie puede negar sin embargo que las tres primeras bayamesas, compuestas ente 1851 y 1918, precisamente en un período rotundo de afirmación de nuestra identidad nacional, son parte entrañable del patrimonio de la nación cubana."
    Translation: "From the end of the 1910s to the present day, there is no doubt that in Bayamo, beautiful and important music has been written that could also be called Bayamesas. Nobody can deny, nevertheless, that the first three Bayamesas, composed between 1851 and 1918 in a period of strong affirmation of our national identity, are an integral part of Cuban patriotism."
  17. ^ "Chan Chan - Buena Vista Social Club". PBS.org. Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  18. ^ "El cuarto de Tula". PBS.org. Retrieved June 1, 2011. 
  19. ^ "Dos gardenias". PBS.org. Retrieved June 1, 2011. 
  20. ^ "Y Tu Que Has Hecho? - Buena Vista Social Club". PBS.org. Retrieved 2013-07-23. 
  21. ^ "Veinte años". PBS.org. Retrieved June 1, 2011. 
  22. ^ "American album certifications – Buena Vista Social Club – Buena Vista Social Club". Recording Industry Association of America.  If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH


  • Nathan Brackett, Christian Hoard (2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide: Completely Revised and Updated 4th Edition. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8. 

External links[edit]