It’s October 1962. John Fitzgerald Kennedy is President and I’m a junior in high school. The Cuban missile crisis is rampant and we are all glued to our TV sets until the moment when the Russian cruiser with the nuclear missiles destined for Cuba does a U-turn and heads home. The Brink of Destruction has been avoided.
Now it’s December 2014. Barack Hussein Obama is President and I’m an aging expatriate in Paris, where I’ve, by now, spent half my life. And the Palais des Congrès is featuring The Bar at Buena Vista, starring some of the survivors of Cuban music shipwrecked by Castro’s Revolution in 1959.
These are not the musicians from the Buena Vista Social Club album and film, but Toby Gough, the Scotsman who leads this troupe and acts as narrator, has banded together 17 of their talented compatriots to carry proudly the flag of Cuban music. As Toby explains, it’s all built around the Cuban barman from the actual BVSC who introduced him to these legends.
First out is The Black Prince, Capullo, aged 77. Then, resplendent in red, comes Luis Chacon Mendive, aka Aspirina because his voice cures all ills, even at age 88. After that a piano medley by maestro Guillermo Rubalcaba Gonzales, 84. He starts with Guantanamera, followed by La Vie en Rose - it’s a French crowd after all - then on to El Cumanchero with a burning bongo solo, and finishing with Hernando’s Hideaway. A little something for everyone.
|Ignacio Mazacote Carrillo|
After an hour and a half followed by almost another full hour after the intermission, the audience is on their feet and dancing, me included. Ending with the classic Chan-Chan as an encore - and before their second show in only a few hours - these octagenarians and nonagerians could teach the youngsters a thing or two. It’s sad that they had to spend decades shining shoes, washing dishes, rolling cigars or working at the dry cleaners. But it’s wonderful that their voices are still strong and they’re spending the last years of their lives traveling first class and bowing to a standing ovation.
If you want more information on the show, or to see a video-amalgam of the acts, click on http://www.baratbuenavista.com/homepage.html