This month marks the twentieth anniversary of a groundbreaking album made largely by the seat of Ry Cooder’s pants.
A year earlier, Cooder had been invited to Cuba by a British producer to make an album comprised of Mali and Cuban musicians. But the Mali musicians had not received their visas and couldn’t make the trip to Havana. Undeterred, Cooder and his cohorts recruited local musicians, many of whom had been playing for decades at the 1950s era member-only Buena Vista Social Club.
The album was made in six days, resulting in a worldwide phenomenon that led the elderly musicians on a world tour, including a performance at Carnegie Hall. Cooder told an reporter that the language barrier wasn’t a problem, and that “musicians communicate with each other through other means than speaking.”