HAVANA (Reuters) - Its oldest stars died after a late burst of international fame, but the show goes on for Cuba’s trademark Buena Vista Social Club band as it taps new blood to keep touring.
The 13-piece band travels to Britain next week to perform 32 concerts from London to Liverpool and Edinburgh.
Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez will be playing the bass again and Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal will be on trumpet. The survivors of the original 1997 Grammy-winning recording that gave the band its name and fame are now in their mid-70s.
The young addition to the group is lead singer Idania Valdes, 26, who started as a chorus girl with Buena Vista six years ago and played keyboard for an off-shoot band of the late Ibrahim Ferrer.
Barbarito Torres, 52, who plays the laud, an instrument like a lute, and timbal percussionist Amadito Valdes, 62, the “golden sticks” of Buena Vista, are still regular performers who will join the tour.
“The most famous names in the Buena Vista project have died but the band has become a trademark of Cuban music,” said Valdes, creator of a unique style of playing the timbales, a Cuban instrument made famous by Puerto Rican Tito Puentes.
Since the 2003 death of Buena Vista’s elder-statesman singer Compay Segundo at the age of 95, another three of its original line-up have passed away: pianist Ruben Gonzalez, singer Ibrahim Ferrer and vocalist and composer Pio Leyva.
Other members have gone their own way, such as guitarist Eliades Ochoa, who tours Europe every year with his own band, and Buena Vista diva and ballad singer Omara Portuondo, who last played with the original band members in Mexico in 2006.
Portuondo will sing at Kenwood House on London’s Hampstead Heath in July with her own band.
Many of the musicians were brought out of retirement during a legendary recording session in March 1997 produced in Havana by U.S. guitarist Ry Cooder, though the idea was the brainchild of world music label owner Nick Gold of Britain.
The mambo, cha cha cha and bolero music they played struck a chord of nostalgia for the golden age of Cuban music mirrored in the crumbling old buildings and vintage American cars still plying the streets of Havana.
The Buena Vista recording sold one million copies within a year and reached new audiences through the documentary by German film-maker Wim Wenders two years later. To date seven million copies have been sold, making it the biggest selling world music disc ever.
Cuban music had been cut off by the Cold War from its natural market in the United States and the Grammy-winning Buena Vista recaptured Americas audiences and won new listeners as far away as Iceland and New Zealand, Valdes said.
“It broke all records for the sale of Cuban music and became a trademark of Cuba,” said Valdes, tapping on his timbales, two small drums on a stand with a cowbell.
Buena Vista’s Cuban founder, Juan de Marcos Gonzalez, the man who gathered together the original musicians, continues to promote faces through his own band Afro-Cuban All Stars.
Editing by Anthony Boadle and Vicki Allen