Cuban Music's Most Successful Accident Rises Again Producer Nick Gold discusses a new release from the musicians behind 1997's landmark album Buena Vista Social Club, and the extended family of artists they've inspired.
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Cuban Music's Most Successful Accident Rises Again

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Cuban Music's Most Successful Accident Rises Again

Cuban Music's Most Successful Accident Rises Again

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In Cuba, music like this is still around. It's Cuban traditional music, and these musicians went largely unheard outside of Cuba until "The Buena Vista Social Club."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIANS: (Singing in Spanish).

SIEGEL: In 1996, producers Nick Gold and Ry Cooder spent six days with some of Cuba's venerated musicians. Their record, "The Buena Vista Social Club," sold 8 million copies. And it catapulted the musicians to international fame. Now, Gold has found more recordings from that week in Havana. And combined with a number of live performances and recordings by the individual musicians, he has produced a new album, "Buena Vista Social Club, Lost And Found." From London, Nick Gold told us about one of his favorite moments from that original session that's in the new album. It came when Eliades Ochoa sang "Pedacito de Papel" - little piece of paper.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PEDACITO DE PAPEL")

ELIADES OCHOA: (Singing in Spanish).

NICK GOLD: This was late at night. We were still waiting in the studio - the engineer and myself. And Eliades came back to collect his guitar, and there was no one there. And he just sat down and started to play. And we rolled the tapes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PEDACITO DE PAPEL")

OCHOA: (Singing in Spanish).

SIEGEL: Why so long for a follow-up album?

GOLD: After the initial recording of "Buena Vista Social Club," it was very difficult to keep up with all the recordings that followed and a lot of the musicians touring. And some of the recordings got forgotten. More recently, I was just being asked, you know, is there anything else? You know, what might there be? So I started to dig into these archives, which were pretty voluminous. And it became apparent pretty quickly that there was at least an album's worth of really wonderful stuff - royal gems.

SIEGEL: What I hear you saying is that this incredibly hot group had to cool down sufficiently before you could go and produce a second album of their stuff.

GOLD: Pretty much, yeah. I mean, they just got very, very busy with their solo careers. And, you know, everyone sort of looked the other way a little bit.

SIEGEL: Well, in this new album, "Buena Vista Social Club, Lost And Found," what are some of the songs that stand out for you?

GOLD: Well, from the very first sessions, there's a song called Macusa, and it just takes you back in a very incredibly vivid way to those sessions in that week.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MACUSA")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIANS: (Singing in Spanish).

GOLD: I mean, I think memories are almost tactile. It's strange. You know, you're transported back there. So, you know, you leave the hotel in the morning and walk to the studio down these narrow streets, and this (unintelligible) studio was like a glass door with no warning that it's coming. There's no warning or anything. And you open this door and walk up these crickity old wooden stairs into this amazing studio built in the '50s - it's, you know, complete wooden floor, wooden ceiling - to be greeted by this just phenomenal array of musicians that we managed to assemble.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MACUSA")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIANS: (Singing in Spanish).

SIEGEL: This is music from a time before jazz and dance music parted ways, in - at least in this country - in the United States. It's wonderful, popular dance hall music and also very sophisticated playing.

GOLD: Yeah, the playing is amazing. This is Compay Segundo. And I can't think of an equivalent of getting Compay, which Ry described as getting the Louis Armstrong on our session.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

COMPAY SEGUNDO: (Singing in Spanish).

GOLD: The wealth of knowledge and expertise and finesse with which he was able to play and the same with Ruben - it was an extraordinary group.

SIEGEL: There's a track on the new album called "Ruben Sings."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUBEN SINGS")

RUBEN GONZALEZ: (Singing melody).

SIEGEL: What's happening here? What's going on?

GOLD: (Laughter) Ruben Gonzalez was a pianist that we came across. And when we started to hear him play, he was on fire. He was just amazing. You'd go to the studio, and he was at the door each morning. And he would literally run the piano and play all day. And this little bit at the end of the record was basically a guide while the rehearsal was going on.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUBEN SINGS")

GONZALEZ: (Singing melody).

GOLD: So he's singing a piano solo. And it's remarkably like he plays the piano.

SIEGEL: Now, how old were these men when they made this recording with you in '97?

GOLD: I can't really remember exactly how they were. But Compay was in his 80s. You know, a lot of the musicians were older. Rubin Gonzalez, the pianist, was in his late-70s. Ibrahim Ferrer was in his mid-70s.

SIEGEL: How many of the musicians are still with us now?

GOLD: From that original band - a lot of them have passed now. Ibrahim Ferrer's gone, Compay, Ruben Gonzalez, Cachaito, Pio Leyva, (unintelligible). And, you know, still with us is the great diva of Cuban song, Omara Portuondo.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAGRIMAS NEGRAS")

OMARA PORTUONDO: (Singing is Spanish).

SIEGEL: She is the singer - the voice that we hear on the track "Lagrimas Negras" - black tears.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAGRIMAS NEGRAS")

PORTUONDO: (Singing is Spanish).

SIEGEL: How did this one not make the cut on the first album is what I'd like to know.

GOLD: It's very strange, actually because how the records were - for the record came about was, you know, all the musicians would suggest their own repertoire basically by playing it in the room. So, you know, these musicians would be playing almost like a desert-island selection of their favorite songs. And we were able to sort of pick and choose from those. And this was one of the songs that was suggested. But, you know, almost ironically, we thought it was too popular a song to include on the record because it was a very, very well-known song - probably would've been the best known song on the record.

SIEGEL: What do you think it is about this music that gives it such broad appeal?

GOLD: It's difficult to say about the music itself, but I think there's hundreds of reasons it appealed because it really was a word-of-mouth phenomenon. And then the - you know, the musicians were coming over and touring, which caught people's imagination. They started to do interviews. People started to listen to their stories. But I still think that that idea of the way it was recorded - you feel like you're in the room with them. And I think that's - it's a very important part of it. You feel very close to the performance itself, like you're sitting next to them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIANS: (Singing in Spanish).

SIEGEL: Nick Gold, producer of "Lost And Found," a new collection of Cuban recordings from The Buena Vista Social Club. Thanks for talking with us.

GOLD: Thank you.

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