Review: Buena Vista Social Club @ Volkswagen Arena

Cuban music surely is one of the richest and most passionate music genres in the world. Having been born and raised in the 90s, the first thing that comes to my mind when thinking about Cuban music is Puebla’s “Hasta Siempre Comandante”. Closely following is Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club. Many people are filled with a warm, joyful feeling whenever they hear the intro of Buena Vista Social Club’s very famous “Chan Chan” or keep up with the rythm of “Candela”. The orchestra has performed around the world with several combinations of members over the past 20 years. With their long-running ‘Adios Tour’ they keep showing audiences that no matter their age nor how many people come and leave the orchestra, they still have the energy and passion to hit stages and leave people with a smile on their faces. This was exactly what happened last night at Volkswagen Arena in front of their enthusiastic Istanbulite audience.

Buena Vista Social Club

Volkswagen Arena’s choice as venue, considering their regular line-up of rock bands (or in other words concerts where people actually stand), raised some questions marks before the show. However, blocks of seats were set, the stage was ready and the orchestra made a calm and melodic start with two of its vocalists Idania Valdes and Carlos Colunga. After a warm-up with some upbeat tracks, the diva of the orchestra and one of the most famous female stars of Cuban music, Omara Portuondo was announced. As she entered the stage, the crowd also got in the perfect mood for joining the legend with her performances. Despite being 86 years old, her energy was at its highest level. Her smiley face, funny dance moves and flirty attitude were on display and had the audience hoping to one day be like her when they turn 86 years old. Surely, once Omara Portuondo started singing and dancing, there was no order of seats. The audience was standing, dancing to the beats and singing the songs with the orchestra.

Together with Omara Portuondo, the orchestra has performed with several Cuban stars. The unforgettable iconic faces of the orchestra who are not alive right now such as Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén Gonzales, Compay Segundo, Orlando ‘Cochaito’ Lopez, Manuel ‘Puntillita’ Licea were commemorated on the screen behind the orchestra with features from their previous concerts or recording memories. A slideshow on the screen sometimes took the audience to the colorful streets of Cuba or brought the legends of Cuban music to the stage with their former orchestra mates.

Buena Vista Social Club’s ‘Adios Tour’ is also special because it brings oud virtuoso Barbarrito Torres, young pianist Rolando Luna, tres guitarist Papi Oviedo, trombonist Jesus Aguaje Ramos, contrabassist Pedro Pablo, percussionists Andres Coayo, Filiberto Sanchez and Alberto ‘La Noche’ together. All of them had the same impressive energy and smiling faces which made us all convinced that they were having so much fun on the stage without even thinking that this was one of their last performances altogether. Every one of them performed a solo with their beloved instrument and left the audience speechless with their fresh talent. As ‘Adios Tour’ was designed as a compilation of the past 20 years of the orchestra, it could easily be seen that every color of it was still as vivid as it was when they first started.

Buena Vista Social Club 1

The crowd constantly enjoyed standing up and dancing to the Latin beats of the orchestra. Some of them never stopped dancing, even during songs which were a little more easy and slow. Some attendees kept standing and sitting back down again at the beginning and end of every song. At first, this routine of up and down made the elder part of the audience a little angry. Yet, after a short while, even they joined the crowd and enjoyed the performances.

The encore started with the beautiful “Dos Gardenias”, performed by Omara Portuondo and Carlos Colunga. The duet had the audience swinging from side to side for what was the beginning of the grand finale of the concert. Although the members of the orchestra were quite old and sometimes had difficulties in standing, walking or keeping up with the high tempo, how they showed their never dying enthusiasm to the audience was really impressive. By the end, we all left the venue questioning the possibility of being like them when we are older than 80 and dreaming of moving to Cuba to enjoy this music at its best.

All images courtesy of Nilce Bıçakcıoğlu.

Nilce Bıçakcıoğlu
Nilce has been living in Istanbul for 7 years, experiencing different neighbourhoods and enjoying getting to know unique sides of each and every one of them. Besides working on articles and a thesis on media & communications as a graduate student, Nilce is a radio enthusiast who took part in different radio stations and running her own radio show/podcast series called Globetrotter (and Mixcloud). Nilce is constantly dreaming of traveling the world, while at the same time discovering new reasons to embrace the city and diverse culture of Istanbul.


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