A list­less se­quel that frus­trates

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WASH­ING­TON: In the year or so af­ter its re­lease, the 1997 al­bum Buena Vista So­cial Club be­came a world­wide record­ing phe­nom­e­non.

In 1996, Amer­i­can gui­tarist Ry Cooder had as­sem­bled Cuba’s most tal­ented mu­si­cians – many of them well into their 70s – and in­vited them play stan­dards in the tra­di­tional “Son Cubano” style. A few years later, there was an ac­com­pa­ny­ing Os­car-nom­i­nated film by Ger­man film­maker Wim Wen­ders.

Buena Vista So­cial Club: Adios is a se­quel to that 1999 film, with English film­maker Lucy Walker re­plac­ing Wen­ders, who has stepped into the role of ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer. Aim­less and frus­trat­ing, Adios is a fol­low-up that con­stantly at­tempts to re­assert its rel­e­vance.

Since the re­lease of the orig­i­nal film, Cuba has changed sig­nif­i­cantly. Open­ing with news footage about Fidel Cas­tro’s death, Walker sig­nals that there has been a sea of change in the Caribbean coun­try, be­fore plung­ing us into scenes of mod­ern-day Ha­vana. The first half of the film rein­tro­duces many of the ma­jor mu­si­cians from the first film.

Among the more strik­ing of these char­ac­ters are Ibrahim Fer­rer and Omara Por­tuondo, the heart­break­ing singers who helped the first film find its soul­ful cen­tre.

Although the orig­i­nal Buena Vista So­cial Club ended with a Carnegie Hall per­for­mance in 1998, Adios con­tin­ues well into the 21st cen­tury, in­clud­ing a his­toric 2015 per­for­mance at the White House for Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

Adios could have been an af­fect­ing re­u­nion, as well as a refresher course on a mu­si­cal genre that has not got­ten much at­ten­tion since the ear­lier film faded from peo­ple’s me­mories. The trou­ble is that Walker tells her story with an inat­ten­tive, me­an­der­ing style, show­ing us lots of archival footage that jumps all around the 20th cen­tury, with lit­tle ef­fort to put these frag­ments in con­text.

Her cam­eras cir­cle around in­di­vid­ual mu­si­cians, with­out ever show­ing us how the per­form­ers co­a­lesce into a sin­gu­lar mu­si­cal force. The ef­fect is like lis­ten­ing to a con­ver­sa­tion with some­one overea­ger to in­tro­duce a favourite new band: all breath­less free- as­so­ci­a­tion, with no pa­tient ex­pla­na­tion. Our con­fu­sion leads to dis­in­ter­est.

An­other dis­ap­point­ing as­pect of Adios is the music.

As in the orig­i­nal doc­u­men­tary, Walker’s film doesn’t al­low us to linger over an en­tire song, de­liv­er­ing mere snip­pets in­stead that con­vey only the idea of a tune and not its full emo­tional weight. The haunt­ing bal­lad Chan Chan, for ex­am­ple, comes with­out the vaguely sin­is­ter in­stru­men­tal that opens it, ren­der­ing the song about as pow­er­ful as back­ground music in a restau­rant.

At an­other point, some­one men­tions Fer­rer’s gift for vo­cal im­pro­vi­sa­tion, yet the clip that Walker chooses to il­lus­trate this tal­ent is so bizarre that it’s dif­fi­cult to com­pre­hend what makes his per­for­mance so spe­cial.

Adios ex­ists pri­mar­ily to se­cure the legacy of the mu­si­cians from the first film, many of whom have passed away in the two decades since the orig­i­nal doc­u­men­tary came out, and who, the film sug­gests, have now at­tained the sta­tus of folk heroes. Some of these mu­si­cians lived into their 90s, so, while their deaths are not a tragedy, Walker hints that the Son Cubano style may ex­pire with them.

As an el­egy, Buena Vista So­cial Club: Adios is an im­per­fect one, in no small part be­cause it glosses over the his­tory of the coun­try in which it’s set. It feels like a wasted op­por­tu­nity not to ask the film’s sub­jects to re­flect on a coun­try that has seen so much change and re­ju­ve­na­tion.

If only Adios had the pa­tience to sit back and lis­ten to a song for more than a few bars, it might have in­spired a new set of fans.

Walker leaves us with a frac­tured por­trait, not only of these mu­si­cians, but of what they mean for their coun­try­men. – Wash­ing­ton Post

Buena Vista So­cial Club: Adios. PIC­TURE: WASH­ING­TON POST

Omara Por­tuondo and Gil­berto ‘Papi’ Oviedo in

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