Buena Vista Social Club brings Cuban bar to Korea

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Buena Vista Social Club brings Cuban bar to Korea

Following a sell-out world tour last year, the Buena Vista Social Club ends its four-month Asia-Pacific tour 2005 in Korea this weekend. Tomorrow evening at Ewha Womans University in northwestern Seoul is “The Bar at Buena Vista,” an exuberant Cuban show that will take 1,500 spectators per show to the golden era of luminous Havana bars of the 1940s and ’50s.
The bar stage design was conceived by an Australian director named Toby Gouch after an encounter with Arturo Lucas, who worked at legendary Havana watering holes ― Sloppy Joe’s, The Floridita, Niche Bar and The Bodegguita del Medio ― in the old days.
The show will feature some of Cuba’s musical godfathers, including internationally acclaimed members of the Buena Vista Social Club and the Afro Cuban Allstars.
The international popularization of Cuban music started in 1995 when the legendary musician Ry Cooder gathered some of the greatest names from old Cuban music ―from vintage maestro to new prodigies ― to collaborate on the album, “The Buena Vista Social Club.” This compilation of Cuba’s forgotten music was recorded with contemporary styling for the modern audience, while retaining the vibrant colors of Cuba. The band’s explosive popularity was rewarded with a Grammy for Best Tropical Latin performance in 1997.
Around that time, the German auteur Wim Wenders traveled to Havana to make a documentary film titled, “Buena Vista Social Club” (1999) and introduced to the world the sophisticated sound and images of this Caribbean magic. To millions of fans around the world, the image of Cuba and its music belongs to an intoxicating scene in “The Buena Vista Social Club,” where immaculately dressed septuagenarian musicians dance bare-footed on a rooftop.
Gouch’s production, “The Bar at Buena Vista” is more than a concert. The narrator and former barman, Lucas, oversees the musicians, who are served cocktails onstage.
Among the 18 artists visiting Korea is Maestro Bubalcaba, an 83-year-old pianist known as “The Hands of Gold” in Cuba. He is a regular performer at Buena Vista Social Club concerts in Havana and tours with the Afro Cuban Allstars.
Carlos Gonzales, who will be drumming through the night on his bongos, was key to the success of the Buena Vista Social Club, and later the spinoff group the Afro Cuban All Stars.
The diva of this show will be the soloist, Siomara Avilla Valdes Lescay.
The performer that receives the most fervent ovation before even playing a note is also the oldest ― Reinaldo Creagh, who is 86. On stage, he appears graceful in his immaculate suit, puffing a foot-long cigar and crooning from his rocking chair.
A review of the band’s Sydney performance noted: “When [Creagh’s] signature tune ‘El Paralytico’ heated up, he threw down his walking stick to gyrate his pelvis to cheekily suggest just what it is that keeps him in such fine form.”
Accompanying Creagh is his old friend, Jose “Maracaibo” Castaneda, who at 80 is an agile and productive master of tres guitar and a multi-instrumentalist extraordinare. He leads the septet on the bandstand. Creagh and Maracaibo have played music with Ibraihim Ferrer, one of the original members to have collaborated on the 1999 album of the band’s namesake.
Add to this some alarmingly sexual body-grinding by Eric Turro and his troupe, which performs the traditional Son style of street and saloon style music from Cuba of the ’40s and ’50s.
Because the narration is in Spanish, the Korean shows will also have an English-speaking narrator.
Over two acts, a total of 17 songs, including “Buena Vista,” “Soy Cubano Oriente,” “Rumba” and “Jazz-Julito” will be staged for the Buena Vista fans in Korea. Given the bar atmosphere, fans can expect a lot of improvisation.
“Descarga is the expression of the inner self through improvisation,” explains Gouch, the Australian director. “It can be compared to a jam session where musicians gather at a bar to drink, tell stories and play with old friends, sometime until dawn.”

by Ines Cho

“The Bar at Buena Vista” plays tomorrow at 7 p.m at Main Auditorium in Ewha Womans University, on Sunday 3 and 7 p.m., and on Monday at 3 and 7 p.m. Tickets are available through Interpark (1544-1555) and Ticketlink (1588-7890), and cost 30,000 won ($30), 50,000 won and 70,000 won. The subway station is Edae on line 2, exit 2 or 3. For more information or online purchase, visit the Web site, www.credia.co.kr/buenavista/index.htm or www.baratbuenavista.com.
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