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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Red-hot Latin American band star alongside Strictly duo

* Strictly's James and Ola Jordan. 
* Buena Vista Social Club .
Television’s Strictly Come Dancing stars James and Ola Jordan are household names – but not to the band who will be supplying the music for Llangollen International Eisteddfod’s Strictly Cuban night.
The glamorous dancers, stars of BBC’s Saturday night smash hit show, will bring their Latin American dance expertise to the Eisteddfod stage this July but the musicians of Havana’s Buena Vista Social Club have never heard of them.
That doesn’t worry them though – they had never heard of legendary American guitarist Ry Cooder when he discovered them in Cuba in 1997 and it didn’t stop them going on to worldwide fame, an Oscar nomination and a Grammy award.
This July their traditional rhythms and haunting melodies will flood a North Wales valley as The Buena Vista Social Club take to the Royal International Pavilion stage on Thursday, July 11.
And although the Eisteddfod’s history and tradition is also something new to the band’s Cuban musicians according to trombonist Jesus ‘Aguaje’ Ramos, band members are honoured and excited at the prospect of making their Eisteddfod debut alongside James and Ola.
Speaking from Havana, Aguaje says he, and his fellow Cuban musicians, are looking forward to meeting the star dancers and their Welsh audience.
He said: “We are learning about the Eisteddfod and the fact it was set up to promote international harmony. Of course we are really excited about being invited to such a wonderful event and are happy to be part of it.
“We play traditional Cuban music and everything surrounding it! This is the roots of our music, our culture, and there are countless different styles within our traditional music, such as Cha Cha Cha, Guajira, Son, Danzón, Montuno, to name a few.
“We are sure James and Ola will enjoy it too and we look forward to seeing them dancing to our sound.”
Eisteddfod Musical Director Eilir Owen Griffiths said: “We’re thrilled to have the Buena Vista Social Club here in Llangollen as their roots go back to the origins of Latin American music.
“It’s a really exciting prospect to have James and Ola dancing on the same stage as them and a little corner of Wales will be transformed into a sultry night in Havana.”
While the Buena Vista Social Club owes its roots to the traditional rhythms of Cuba the band, perhaps, owes its worldwide fame to their collaboration with Ry Cooder.
In 1996 Cooder, who has worked with Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison and Neil Young, among others, was invited, by British music producer, Nick Gold, to Havana to record a session with two African and Cuban musicians.
However, the two Africans, from Mali, were unable to get visas in time so Cooder and Gold changed plans and decided to record an album, along with local musicians, of traditional Cuban music.
Within a few days they’d managed to put together a band and began recording at Havana’s EGREM Studios despite the recording equipment and atmosphere having remained unchanged since the 1950’s.
The album was recorded in just six days with Cooder, unfazed by the language barrier, saying musicians understand each other through means other than speech.
One of the songs featured on the album was ‘Buena Vista Social Club’, a song written by bass player Israel Lopez.
Cooder, who was looking for a name for the album, was told of the history of the actual members-only social club that existed in the Marianao district of the Cuban capital and which had adopted the song as its signature tune.
Following the album’s 1997 release the CD became a word-of-mouth global smash hit selling more than five million copies and winning a Grammy Award.
On the back of the album the Buena Vista – meaning good view in Spanish – Social Club began touring as they generated a revival in interest in traditional Cuban and South American music in general.
And while band members may have changed as the years roll by they will always stick to their traditional Cuban roots, according to Aguaje.
He said: “From the original band there is still Omara Portuondo (vocals), Eliades Ochoa (guitar and vocals), Barbarito Torres (laud, a traditional stringed instrument similar to a guitar) and Guajiro Mirabal (trumpet).
“I joined the band myself after a few shows and we are currently accompanied by a great cast of young musicians.
“Since the band starting touring we have visited so many countries we have lost count and this year we have a long tour coming up, including Llangollen, with a lot of dates still to announce.
“But we still perform, when we can, in Havana. To us music is life and whenever we get the chance we like to gather in Cuba and play.
“We play traditional Cuban music, son, guajiras, montunos, and look to our island¹s rich musical history, and the musicians’ own personal experiences, I think this is what makes our music so special.”
Omara Portuondo says the Llangollen audience will experience the full Buena Vista Social Club band in a high-energy performance that will leave lasting memories.
He said: “The full band will be in Wales and the show will feature Eliades Ochoa and me on vocals. You can expect some classic Cuban songs such as Veinte Años, Chan Chan, or El Cuarto de Tula, but also there would be some nice surprises with new songs we¹ve been working on recently.
“Of course we would love to have Ry Cooder join us again on stage one day but it won’t happen this time.
“Hopefully, some day in the future, our paths will cross and we will remind ourselves of the beautiful memories we have and the music we did with him.
“Within the band we have a number of younger musicians, Calunga and Idania, the singer, Rolando, the pianist, Pedro on bass, Guajirito alongside his grandfather, Guajiro Mirabal, on trumpet.
“And also, in all the music schools in Cuba, the students are taught traditional music so our roots will never be lost!
“We would like to release more albums but only the future knows if we are going to be able to. We are working really hard with some new tracks, such as Changui, and some of them are already included in the set list that you’ll be able to listen to in Llangollen when you enjoy the show.”
Speaking about life in Cuba, Aguaje, says even traditional music is evolving as time goes by.
He said: “For me Cuba is music, it’s my family, my happiness, my reason to live. I think its culture that is constantly evolving; the younger generations of musicians in Cuba are producing some really interesting music, which although it maintains its Cuban roots, does have a real 21st Century sound.
“People ask me why is Buena Vista Social Club has been so successful, well for me it’s because when something is unexpected, you receive it in a natural manner and with great happiness.
“We never imagined we would be so successful and it would last for so long. We just played and still just enjoy playing and making music together.”
The Buena Vista Social Club are part of a stunning lineup at this year’s Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in July.
The will perform with Strictly Come Dancing’s James and Ola Jordan and other top attractions are Jools Holland, harpist Claire Jones, tenor Noah Stewart, percussionist Evelyn Glennie and a 200th anniversary performance of Verdi’s Requiem.
The Eisteddfod runs from Tuesday, July 9, to Sunday, July 14, at the Royal International Pavilion site and as well as star-studded concerts there are top class music and dance competitions.
Tickets for this year’s concerts are available from the website at and more information is also on Facebook at

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