The normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States has brought a head-spinning number of “firsts” in recent months, but this week's is better described as toe-tapping. For the first time in 50 years a Cuba-based band will play at the White House. And not just any band.
The legendary musical group Buena Vista Social Club will perform Thursday at a White House reception in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. The event will be attended by President Obama, Cuba’s new ambassador to the United States, and a host of other dignitaries.
The group, now known as the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club, is in many ways a pioneering band whose old-school Cuban sounds managed to transcend the often confrontational politics between the two countries, helping to connect Cubans and Americans.
With a 1997 album produced by American musician Ry Cooder, the group brought together storied but largely forgotten Cuban musicians. The album, and a subsequent documentary, were a huge hit, catapulting the band’s original elderly members, some of whom have since passed away, to worldwide fame.
The band has since incorporated new musicians, but its essence of playing “big band” Cuban music remains the same. Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club is currently playing its final U.S. tour, which ends in January.
Cuba, too, is reaching some new musical milestones. Earlier this year, the rock band Dead Daisies played several shows in Havana, and also recorded with Cuban musicians. There’s talk the island could be gearing up for one of its biggest shows in years. Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger was recently in Havana, and official government media said it may have been tied to a Stones show possibly slated to happen next year.