Greetings from Florida. By the time you read this, Hollywood Shuffle will be well entrenched in the Sunshine State on our annual pilgrimage to visit family, douse ourselves in cuba libres and eat our body weight in Cuban pulled-pork sandwiched and plantains.
It's long been a dream of HWS's to visit Havana, but since we can't actually go to Cuba (at least not legally, not yet), South Florida is as close as we can get. But if you're in Houston tonight, you can get a taste of Cuban culture at Domy Bookstore, where the musical documentary Buena Vista Social Club is screening at 8:30 p.m.
The making of Buena Vista Social Club almost came about by accident. Slide guitarist and musicologist Ry Cooder had traveled to Cuba to record an album with some musicians from Mali, but those performers were denied entrance into the country due to visa issues. Since he was already in Cuba, Cooder modified his performance plans to include local Cuban musicians, and in the process of seeking them out, came across a wealth of old-time performers who had played at the height of Cuban music evolution.
During the 1940s, Cuban genres like the mambo and dances like the cha-cha were developing in members-only clubs throughout the island nation. The Buena Vista Social Club was just one of many. The music scene thrived until 1959, when the Cuban Revolution led to the closure of almost every form of entertainment in the country deemed to be unchaste by the conservative government.
Many of the country's most famous and talented musicians fell out of work and remained that way until the late 1990s, when they were rediscovered by Cooder. Like much of the country's culture, the social club musical scene seemed stuck in a Midcentury time capsule.
Cooder began organizing collaborations between Cubans who hadn't performed together in several decades, as well as major concerts in Amsterdam and New York. By this point, the 1990s, many were in their late 70s and 80s. Cooder also called his buddy, one of HWS's all-time favorite film directors, Wim Wenders, who traveled to Havana to film the recording of one of the Club's albums and later filmed both concerts.
The resulting footage, as well as interviews shot with the musicians, became the award-winning documentary that is screening tonight, part of Domy's Thursday-night film series, which in June focuses on movies that explore music and musicians. The screenings are curated by editors at the Houston-based movie zine Film Monitor.