Eliades Ochoa – Vamos a Bailar un Son (Special Edition): Album Review

Special reissue of 2020 album from Buena Vista Social Club kingpin, Eliades Ochoa

Release Date:  28th October 2022

Label: World Circuit / BMG

Formats: CD / Vinyl / Digital

I’ll come clean right from the start.  I’ve been a fan of Cuban music from the date when I first encountered Buena Vista Social Club back in the late nineties.  It was an album that forced me to reappraise my musical points of reference and I vowed, right after my first hearing, that, one day, I would visit Havana to experience these sounds for myself.  Well – I’ve done that and, despite the ubiquity of the Buena Vista… songs – in every restaurant and bar and virtually every street corner – it’s still music that I love, so I was delighted to receive a copy of this special edition of Eliades Ochoa’s 2020 album, Vamos a Bailar un Son to savour.

For those readers unfamiliar with the name Eliades Ochoa (and I suspect that’s not too many of you) let me provide a little background.  He’s best known as a key member of the ensemble that recorded, with the help and encouragement of Ry Cooder, the seminal 1997 Buena Vista Social Club album and also for his appearance in Wim Wenders’ 1999 movie of the project.  He’d been a respected Cuban musician long before his invitation to join the BVSC, principally as member of the long-established Cuarteto Patria group – indeed, when he arrived to participate with BVSC, he brought along several songs from the Cuarteto Patria repertoire – but his history goes back even further…  He started to play guitar at the age of six and, since 1980, he has released, or featured on, well over 40 albums including BVSC and collaborations with the likes of Charlie Musselwhite, Luis Eduardo Aute, Enrique Bunbury and even Bob Dylan.  He’s a master of the acoustic guitar – in both that instrument’s six and eight-string variants, an accomplished composer and a respected interpreter of songs by other important Latin American composers.

Buena Vista Social Club in 1997. Eliades Ochoa is second from right

Eliades has just announced a new partnership with World Circuit/ BMG and this special edition of Vamos a Bailar un Son has been compiled to celebrate that partnership, and to coincide with a European Tour that will keep Eliades busy for the rest of 2022.  This special edition comprises the eleven tracks of the 2020 original plus three excellent bonus tracks.  Eliades is delighted with the reissue, saying that: “This album has made me feel more alive.  I am thrilled that more young people and connecting with my music.”

Vamos a Bailar un Son is a sheer delight.  For anyone who might have worn their copy of Buena Vista Social Club down to a slither, I’d suggest that this new album is an essential purchase.  Most readers will be familiar with the special nature of Cuban music – an enticing blend of Latin melodies and African rhythms, with maybe just a sprinkling of New Orleans jazz, and the 14 tracks of Vamos… serve up this heady concoction by the bucketload.  Eliades sings with a joy, an intimacy or an injured pride (according to the subject matter of the songs) and the ladies provide some delicious backing harmonies, particularly in the chorus sections.  But it’s in the instrumentation that these songs really start to cook.  The salsa rhythms are subtle, ever-present and irresistibly body-moving, the bass provides a rich, solid foundation without ever intruding, the piano throws in that jazzy, sophisticated edge that was such an important feature of the overall Buena Vista Social Club sound and the Mariachi trumpet solidifies that Latin feel.  But, more than anything, it’s Eliades’ guitar prowess that provides the absolute “wow” factor.  The man is a genius, and the sounds he manages to coax from his instrument illuminate just about every one of the tracks on this album.

Vamos a Bailar un Son (the title, by the way, translates as “Let’s Dance a Song” and that’s an entirely appropriate a description of the emotions that are stirred by this music) is album that is best enjoyed as a complete work, preferably as an accompaniment to copious quantities of food and wine in convivial company.  The songs seem to feed into one another and it doesn’t take the listener too much imagination to be transported over to those warm Havana street corners. 

It’s almost churlish to attempt to pick out the album’s highlights, such is the consistently high quality of the music, but, if I was forced at gunpoint to do so, I’d certainly list the vibrant, joyful title track as a particular favourite.  Como la Nube Se Impone al Sol, a collaboration with fellow Cuban singer/guitarist Pablo Milanés, is a close to Fado as anything you’ll hear this side of the bars of downtown Lisbon – and the pair harmonise wonderfully – and in Un Bolero Para Ti, Eliades duets passionately with Cuban flamenco singer Argentina.  Elsewhere, Para Ti Nengón has an unforgettable melody and rhythms that have jumped right out of the Buena Vista… grooves, and bonus track Ay Mama Que Bueno manages to bring together the very best features of the best Cuban music; it’s perhaps a microcosm of the whole album – lazy trumpets, the ubiquitous salsa rhythms and, of course, that wonderful Eliades Ochoa guitar.  I’d heartily recommend that anyone whose interests may have been stirred by these words takes the time to stream the video of the song.

But let me be clear; there isn’t a dull moment on Vamos a Bailar un Son.  Every track is excellent.  If you enjoyed Buena Vista Social Club, then this is the album for you.

Watch the flamboyant official video to Vamos a Bailar un Son – the album’s title track – here:

Find Eliades Ochoa online: Official Website / Facebook / Instagram / YouTube

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