Buena Vista Social Club

Buena Vista Social Club

Caught in the middle of a pissing contest between Castro and America, the Cuban people have long suffered through a besieged economy that has transformed a once-vibrant country into just another variant on the Caribbean slum-paradise. Sadly, when the U.S. cut off contact with Cuba, Cuba's vast cultural riches were lost along with the many benefits of America's diplomatic ties. But as Wim Wenders' new documentary Buena Vista Social Club proves, just because we don't know what's going on in Cuba, that doesn't mean there's nothing going on. In 1996, guitarist Ry Cooder went down to Havana in search of some lost Son players. What he found were the various musicians captured on the Grammy-winning Buena Vista Social Club album, a select group of gray-haired performers forgotten after Cuba's Communist revolution. That album was an eye-opening celebration of Cuban music, a powerful affirmation of the country's heritage and traditionalism. The film serves a similar purpose: The performance scenes are spirited enough to remind viewers that music is far more universal and long-lasting than politics. Here, Cooder and the cast of Cuban musicians are collected once again in a recording studio with ninetysomething singer Ibrahim Ferrer to record a new album. With Wenders' digital camera always running, the living legends ruminate on a life of music that's at last validated by a final performance at Carnegie Hall. Wenders' colorful documentary rarely does more than simply document, though politics can be inferred: Seeing these old singers and instrumentalists smoking cigars and cavorting about like teenagers shows how culture can supercede even the most draconian trade policies.

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