When Eliades Ochoa and other Cuban musicians soared to worldwide prominence in the late 1990s with the "Buena Vista Social Club" album, it felt like an act of musical rescue — the sounds of half a century ago preserved and brought to a new generation.
That album, produced by American singer-songwriter Ry Cooder, netted a Grammy, inspired an Oscar-nominated documentary and sent many of its musicians on tour for years. Now, a decade and a half after the initial buzz, Ochoa sees more than the 1940s being revived when he takes the stage.
In a word, he sees the revival of the revival.
"I think all of us were very surprised [by] the great success, and we didn't think that it was going to get so big," the guitarist wrote in an email. "The most beautiful thing is that the energy from the audience is still there, and now we have more generations — the people from the '90s that now come with their families to enjoy our shows."
Tuesday night, Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club — an ensemble featuring four musicians from Cooder's original project along with 11 bandmates — will play for the first time at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Those familiar with the documentary may recognize Ochoa, who has sometimes been labeled "the Cuban Johnny Cash," as well as singer Omara Portuondo, trumpeter Guajiro Mirabal and laud player Barbarito Torres.
They may also notice the faces missing from onstage. In the past few years, several of the original Social Club musicians have passed on, including Orlando "Cachaito" Lopez, guitarist Manuel Galban and singer Ibrahim Ferrer. Still, Segerstrom President Terry Dwyer, who counts himself a huge fan of the group, is looking forward to the show regardless of its personnel.
"That was a fantastic lineup [in the 1990s], and we actually believe that it's a fantastic lineup of the next generation of that orchestra," he said of Tuesday's performance. "Would I have liked to have seen the original lineup? Sure. But I think this lineup is going to be every bit their equal, just a little bit different."
Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club has long outlasted the venue that gave it the last four words of its name; when director Wim Wenders visited Cuba to film the "Buena Vista Social Club" documentary, he had trouble even finding its former location. Ochoa, who lives in Mexico but still has family in Cuba, called it "one of the many social clubs that you could find in La Habana in those years."
Those years had long passed when Cooder arrived in 1996, hoping to record an album with Cuban and Malian musicians. When the latter group was unable to attend due to visa problems, Cooder scrapped the project and assembled a lineup of local veterans instead.
The resulting album, which came out in 1997, won the Grammy for Best Tropical Latin Performance and prompted Rolling Stone to declare that the group, which was more an all-star lineup than a proper band, "did more internationally for Cuban music than decades of cultural exchanges ever could."
After years of touring with his bandmates, Ochoa feels fortunate more than anything.
"Working with Omara Portuondo, Guajiro and Barbarito is simply a pleasure," he said. "When you work with musicians like that and know that these same musicians are good friends, almost family … it is unforgettable."
If You Go
What: Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club
Where: Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 650 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Cost: Starts at $29
Information: (714) 556-2787 or http://www.scfta.org