NATASHA – Buena Vista performs in Istanbul as part of ‘Adios’ tour

Buena Vista performs in Istanbul as part of ‘Adios’ tourLike many, my love affair with Cuban music began with Buena Vista Social Club. It was in the late 1990s and a Ry Cooder album and celebrated Wim Wenders documentary about the group of elderly musicians had come out.

I was hooked instantly. Then it seemed as if the whole of New Zealand, where I lived, was simultaneously smitten, as every bar and cafandeacute had the album on high rotate, every dinner party had it as background music and virtually overnight, a whole industry of salsa classes was spawned.

We were not alone. The Cuban sound had gone global.

When I visited Cuba in 2001, ostensibly for a wedding but really to indulge my passion, I wasnand#39t disappointed. Despite Castroand#39s repressive regime, the US embargo and Russiaand#39s withdrawal of support, with all the peculiar set of hardships that entailed for the island nation, these people exuded joy and — incredibly — freedom Sunshine helps of course, but the key factors are music and dance.

I couldnand#39t get enough of it: My Cuban musical odyssey was a dizzy blur of son, salsa and mojitos that redefined happiness.Fifteen or so years later, on a damp and chilly Friday night, I made a pilgrimage to Black Box Istanbul in the Maslak district to bid farewell to the group that launched my love affair Me and a venue full of Istanbulites, as Cuban music is as beloved here as it is everywhere.

Since its formation in 1997, BVSC evolved from a band to a brand, and performed over 1,000 concerts with more than 40 musicians in different combinations. During that time the group evolved into a dynamic, multi-generational big band in which veterans and younger performers combined to celebrate Cuban musical tradition from the 1940s.

Sadly, this was its final andldquoadiosandrdquo tour, with Istanbul the final stop before back home to CubaFriday nightand#39s show was especially poignant as it brought together original members trumpeter Guajiro Mirabal, guitarlaoud virtuoso Barbarito Torres, band leader, trombonist Jesus andldquoAguajeandrdquo Ramos and vocalist Omara Portuondo. That these elderly musicians could still pull off such an amazing two-hour evening of music is both remarkable and beautiful.

But it was the bandand#39s youngest member, pianist Rolando Luna, who took the stage alone to open the evening with an exquisite rendition of andldquoComo Siento Yo,andrdquo while images of late Buena Vista pianist Ruben Gonzalez were projected onto a large screen behind. It was particularly touching that the concert was celebrated with video tributes to BVSC members who are no longer with us — Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer and others — and at the same time highlighted younger musicians who are keeping traditional Cuban music alive.

These are young singers such as Carlos Calunga and Idania Valdandeacutes, who worked their charms on the Istanbul audience throughout the first half of the show, displaying a more contemporary vocal style.The 12-piece band delighted with a dazzling performance of remarkable energy and enthusiasm, all the time playing with huge smiles on their faces.

(Is smiling while playing an unwritten rule in Cuba?)learly, they were enjoying this as much as we were. Each musician had their own take on a wide range of Cuban music styles, like son, danzon, cha cha cha, boleros and Cuban jazz.

The more upbeat son, which gave birth to mambo and salsa, is full of infectious guitar strums, Afro-Cuban rhythms and brassy horns. The whole mix was wonderfully hypnotic, and glancing around, everyone near me was either clapping the beat or tapping their feet, entranced.

The highlight, without a doubt, was Omara Portuondo, who received a standing ovation when she appeared onstage mid-show. Her adoring fans — about 100 or so young women who wouldand#39ve been mere tots when the album came out — rushed to the front, some waving large Cuban flags, laughing and dancing, phones held high recording.

Portuondo was a dynamo in a bright pink top and turban, delighting the Istanbul audience as she wriggled her hips and belted out her songs with the energy of someone a quarter her age — she turns 84 this week. When the band left the stage, leaving her with Luna on piano and Ramos on trombone for a wonderful version of andldquo20 Aandntildeos,andrdquo it was worth the ticket price alone to witness that spellbinding performance.

But no BVSC concert would be complete without Segundoand#39s andldquoChan Chan,andrdquo and there were loud cheers and applause from many in the audience at its opening notes, some attempting to join in with the Spanish lyrics. At this point, too, those lucky enough to score seats on the ground level were able to dance freely up front, loosening up with the infectious andldquoEl Cuarto de Tulaandrdquo It seemed a crime to remain seated.

In fact, by the end of the show, Buena Vista Social Club had the entire crowd downstairs and many on the upper levels on their feet — something I have never experienced at an Istanbul concert.But finally, after Portuondoand#39s encore song — a lovely duet with Calunga of andldquoDos Gardeniasandrdquo — and a frenetic but essential andldquoAy, Candela,andrdquo it really was time to say andldquoadios.

andrdquoPostscript: When we got out of the shuttle at the Istanbul Technical University (ITu) stop — a free service the excellent Black Box puts on — to take the escalator down to the Metro, there was the undeniable sound of a womanand#39s screams coming from below. But, descending, we were treated to the perfect finale to a great night.

A young couple was salsa dancing wildly across the near-empty floor to the turnstiles she screeching with delight as he spun her round and round. Hey, Cuban music can do that to you.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman

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