They are re­spected in the Ha­vana mu­sic scene tak­ing their rich mix of rumba, cha-cha-cha, mambo and bolero in­flu­ences to the world

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAY | SHOWS - NOEL MEN­GEL

In Cuba, the mu­sic flows like a river, Ry Cooder said of his ex­pe­ri­ences there. “It takes care of you and re­builds you from the in­side out.’’ Je­sus Aguaje Ramos, trom­bon­ist and band leader for the group now billed as Orquesta Buena Vista So­cial Club, knows all about that river, the one that has sus­tained him as it flowed to the world th­ese past 18 years.

He was a long-es­tab­lished player in the Ha­vana mu­sic scene when the gamechang­ing first al­bum by the Afro-Cuban All Stars was recorded in Ha­vana for the Lon­don world mu­sic la­bel World Cir­cuit.

The record­ing took place at Egrem Stu­dios, and lo­cal band­leader Juan de Mar­cos Gon­za­lez brought artists such as the vir­tu­oso pi­anist Ruben Gon­za­lez out of re­tire­ment.

That was fol­lowed by the Buena Vista So­cial Club al­bum, pro­duced by Cooder and fea­tur­ing Gon­za­lez and other long-ne­glected greats of Cuban tra­di­tional mu­sic, in­clud­ing Com­pay Se­gundo, Ibrahim Fer­rer and Omara Por­tuondo.

Ramos played on many of th­ese record­ings and has toured the world since.

Buena Vista So­cial Club went on to sell more than seven mil­lion copies, as well as launch brief solo ca­reers for sev­eral of the par­tic­i­pants.

Se­gundo and Gon­za­lez died in 2003, and Fer­rer in 2005, but the great tra­di­tions of Cuban mu­sic had been res­cued from ob­scu­rity. Ramos moved to Ha­vana in 1979.

“I was a fol­lower of Ruben Gon­za­lez and his work; I worked with a quar­tet play­ing some of the songs he had writ­ten many years be­fore,’’ Ramos says.

“Ruben and (Enrique) Jor­rin ini­ti­ated the cha-chacha rhythm in the ’40s and ’50s, and Ruben later played with Jor­rin for many years (un­til Jor­rin died in 1987).

“Ibrahim played at a dance in Ha­vana, which is where he and Ruben be­came friends.’’

Cooder was blown away by the pi­ano skills of the 77-yearold Gon­za­lez when he ar­rived at Egrem Stu­dios dur­ing the record­ing of Buena Vista So­cial Club and, at the con­clu­sion of that six-day ses­sion, car­ried on to record Ruben’s first solo al­bum, In­tro­duc­ing … Ruben Gon­za­lez.

Ramos says: “I owe Ruben so much. He taught me how to or­gan­ise a band, how to di­rect a band, how to please an au­di­ence. He told me even if he doesn’t like a song but the au­di­ence does he had to play it, out of re­spect for the peo­ple who have come to hear him.

“He told me al­ways to be con­fi­dent and truth­ful to the mu­sic.’’

Cuban mu­sic draws on a rich mix of cul­tures, from waves of Span­ish and French set­tlers and slaves who brought their rhythms from Africa, meld­ing into styles such as dan­zon and bolero. From the ru­ral ar­eas came the folk mu­sic known as son, while in the cities the Afro-Cuban descen­dants of the slaves called their par­ties rum­bas, and the cha-cha-cha and mambo de­vel­oped.

Cubans such as Perez Prado and Desi Ar­naz (once mar­ried to Lu­cille Ball) took the mu­sic to huge au­di­ences in the US, but af­ter the Cuban Revo­lu­tion in 1959, many orig­i­na­tors were left stranded at home, un­re­warded but later revered by play­ers such as Ramos.

Vet­er­ans of the Buena Vista ses­sions, in­clud­ing Ramos, singer Por­tuondo, trum­peter Gua­jiro Mira­bal and laud player Bar­bar­ito Tor­res, still tour with Orquesta Buena Vista.

“We have made the prom­ise to our­selves to keep those roots of tra­di­tional Cuban mu­sic alive,’’ Ramos says.

The group is mak­ing a farewell world tour, the Adios tour.

“The suc­cess of Buena Vista So­cial Club has in­flu­enced the new mu­si­cians in Ha­vana. Con­certs were of­fered in the mu­sic schools to get more peo­ple in­ter­ested in tra­di­tional mu­sic.

“We are very proud of this work, res­cu­ing some­thing that peo­ple thought was lost.”

Orquesta Buena Vista So­cial Club has in­flu­enced the new mu­si­cians in Ha­vana and are mak­ing a farewell world tour.

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