One of the outstanding features of the Festival throughout its five decades has been the sheer number and variety of international artists it has brought to Belfast.
And this year is no exception, with South African ensemble Ladysmith Black Mambazo on the same programme as Mexican group Pate de Fua, an ongoing testimony to how the Festival has always been a springboard for audiences here to discover new sounds they might never have otherwise experienced.
Among those to have graced the stage in the past were the Buena Vista Social Club, whose tantalising and exotic brand of ‘son’ music has had audiences packing the stalls on their previous visits.
As the name suggests, the group began life as a members club in Cuba in the 1930s and 1940s, where musicians would perform regularly, until it was shut down following the revolution of 1959 as the government sought to reshape the nation’s cultural identity.
In the late 1990s, the musicians and singers, many by now well into their 80s and 90s, enjoyed an unexpected resurgence in popularity, following the release of an album of their music, produced by legendary guitarist Ry Cooder, and an accompanying documentary by German director Wim Wenders.
With several of those key players no longer alive, however, the tradition of the club has continued in a new incarnation, the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club, which includes some veteran members, such as the great trumpeter Guajiro Mirabal.
Performance caught up with band director Jesús Aguaje Ramos ahead of the troupe’s visit to this year’s festival:
Are you looking forward to returning to Belfast?
For us is a great honour and pleasure to play again in Belfast. It is always a pleasure to return to cities where we have had a good rapport with the audiences, where our music is respected.
What will you be performing? Can the festival audience|expect any surprises?
We’re working on some new songs and we’re sure the audience will like them! They are in the same vibe as our regular repertoire, and of course we’ll also play a selection of Buena Vista’s greatest hits.
Are you surprised at the success the Buena Vista Social Club has had with a new |generation of music fans?
It is very nice to see how the new generation enjoy and know our music. This is a great surprise for us and greatly appreciated. Yet the music speaks for itself, great rhythms, and even if you don’t understand all the lyrics, the audiences understand the songs’ emotions.
What are your memories of the old Buena Vista Social Club from the 1950s?
I’m actually too young to have visited the original club though we try to keep the music of those maestros as close to the original as possible. Despite the fact that those great names are no longer with us, we can play their music as they taught us to and we can share it with the new generations.
Is touring the world difficult physically for you all?
All the pleasure we get from the audience and the joy of bringing our music to every corner of the world make us feel like teenagers once we hit the road!
What is the future for Buena Vista? Do you think there will be a new generation to take over in years to come?
Yes, within the band we have a number of younger musicians. And also, in all the music schools in Cuba, the students are taught traditional music — so our roots definitely won’t be lost!
- Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club, October 30, Ulster Hall