Ry Cooder has big ears. He hears music from far away, music that most of us never even sense. And he brings it to us. Spreading the gospel, as it were.
Through his collaborations with Mali’s Ali Farka Toure on Talking Timbuktu and India’s V. M. Bhatt on A Meeting by the River, Cooder has broadened our musical world. Now, with Buena Vista Social Club, Cooder has teamed up with 19 Cuban musicians to create a collection of funky old-time Cuban sons, boleros, blues, ballads, and dance tunes.
“Funky” is the key word here. The opening cut, “Chan Chan,” by 89-year-old Cuban musical giant Francisco Repilado, a.k.a. Compay Segundo, is a slow country funk song that blends strains of reggae, jazz, gospel, and more. Cooder’s guitar blends effortlessly with the world-weary trumpet solo, the driving congas, bongos, and maracas, and the multilayered harmonizing vocals.
The songs are instantly evocative of a world most modern Americans have never seen: Cuban bars and cafés with workers gathered for a night of dancing and rejoicing. As Cooder writes in his preface to this CD, “The players and singers of the ‘son de Cuba’ have nurtured this very refined and deeply funky music in an atmosphere sealed off from the fall out of a hyper-organized and noisy world. In the time of about 150 years, they have developed a beautiful ensemble concept that works like greased lighting.”
Ry Cooder’s collaboration with the son musicians of Cuba is a revelation, a celebration, and a darn good collection of funky music.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jan ’98 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.