This album is named after a members-only club that was opened in Havana in pre-Castro times, a period of unbelievable musical activity in Cuba. While bandleader Desi Arnaz
became a huge hit in the States, several equally talented musicians never saw success outside their native country, and have had nothing but their music to sustain them during the Castro reign. Ry Cooder
went to Cuba to record a musical documentary of these performers. Many of the musicians on this album have been playing for more than a half century, and they sing and play with an obvious love for the material. Cooder
could have recorded these songs without paying the musicians a cent; one can imagine them jumping up and grabbing for their instruments at the slightest opportunity, just to play. Most of the songs are a real treasure, traversing a lot of ground in Cuba's musical history. There's the opening tune, "Chan Chan," a composition by 89-year-old Compay Segundo
, who was a bandleader in the '50s; the cover of the early-'50s tune "De Camino a la Verada," sung by the 72-year-old composer Ibrahim Ferrer
, who interrupted his daily walk through Havana just long enough to record; or the amazing piano playing on "Pablo Nuevo" by 77-year-old Rubén González
, who has a unique style that blends jazz, mambo, and a certain amount of playfulness. All of these songs were recorded live -- some of them in the musicians' small apartments -- and the sound is incredibly deep and rich, something that would have been lost in digital recording and overdubbing. Cooder
brought just the right amount of reverence to this material, and it shows in his production, playing, and detailed liner notes. If you get one album of Cuban music, this should be the one.