It was an evening to remember for a lifetime, a sip from the fountain of youth and an inspiration for all of us who have faced long odds in our lives.
Cuban musical greats Rub?n Gonz?lez and Ibrahim Ferrer had been invited to the great hall for an evening of sweet Cuban music and with them they brought the best of the Buena Vista Social club musicians and a repertoire dating much further back than the contention between Cuba and the United States. Finer ambassadors one could not find than these two utterly charming elder statesmen who exude class and spread joy with gifts almost lost due to neglect.
Luckily for the world and especially for a deliriously happy Cerritos audience Ferrer, Gonzalez, Omara Portuando, "Cachaito" Lopez, "Aguaje" Ramos, Manolo Galb?n and many others are out on the road spreading the glad tidings of this wonderful Cuban music. What was once lost was now found at the jam-packed Center for the Performing Arts.
The almost octogenarian piano maestro Rub?n Gonz?lez began the proceedings with a silken solo rendering of the dreamy "Como Siento Yo" and deftly slid over to another lushly lyrical piece "Siboney" with an understated percussion accompaniment. "Isora" stretched the ensemble a bit more with bandleader Jes?s Ramos' trombone wailing amidst the rain of Ruben's notes on the piano. By the time the band reached "Bodeguero" with the muted, tightly-knit trombones of Alejandro Pichardo and Guajiro Mirabel and timbal, bongo and thundering conga of Angel Terry, the packed audience was already stirring in their seats and several ladies had already taken to the aisles.
The wonderful singer Omara made hearts throb with her emotion drenched "La Vida Es Un Sue?o" and then turned up the burners for "Quiz?s Quiz?s" bumping up rhythmic clapping and playing that turned the audience to pure, delirious dancing joy. Here we were just forty minutes in and unhindered couples were already performing spirited meringues above the orchestra seats. Sadly, the Rub?n Gonz?lez portion of the show came to a spectacular close with the superb singing of Omara aided by the syncopated sparks that flew off Se?or Gonz?lez's mercurial hands on the keys in "Chanchullo."
There was to be plenty more to smile about in the second half as vocalist extraordinaire Ibrahim Ferrer amazingly raised the bar another notch. This is a man who sang for the pure love of singing for decades without gaining fortune in his native land. Yet, this sincere affection for his material and audience is something worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox.
When Ferrer sings, you listen with your heart.
He began with "Bruca Manigua", "La Ultima Cita" and "Aquellos Ojos Verdes" that were warmed by his sincerity and sweet baritone voice. The tempo and number of ladies dancing increased as Omara joined for a spicy "Cienfuegos." flavored by "Pangle" Terry's conga playing. The exquisite "Silencio" saw two voices become one as Ibrahim and Omara provided one of the emotional high points of this evening.
Reaching such a peak might be a problem for some performers but Ferrer just put the audience on their feet and kept them there through his infectious rhythms and spirited singing. In one of those rare and precious moments of music performance the entire hall became one delighted whole; on their feet clapping, dancing, laughing and forgetting everything save the pulsing sound flowing from the orchestra on stage. That same crowd refused to let Ibrahim go and begged for more so he answered with the classic "Dos Gardenias" sung with tremendous emotion. Rub?n Gonz?lez joined and the two giants continued to dazzle with "Suena El Piano", "Como Fue" and an evening ending "Candela" that produced total bittersweet joy.
When the last notes fell, all of the musicians humbly came to the edge of the stage and greeted the ecstatic crowd, shaking hands, passing greetings and reminding us of what we missed for all these years of cold war between our governments. When we speak to each other with music there are no misunderstandings, no animosities and instead of differences we see only our kinship. Such is the valuable enlightenment of the Buena Vista Social Club recording project that eventually placed these great musicians back on stage where they belong. It is an understanding of brother and sisterhood.
For one exhilarating evening that lesson became real.
This story originally appeared in the Los Cerritos Community News. Reprinted with the permission of the author.