Cuba-based Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club To Perform aT White House

For the first time in more than 50 years, a musical band based in Cuba is set to perform at the White House.

The Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club is on the lineup for a White House reception Thursday in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month and the 25th anniversary of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver remarks. Cuba’s ambassador to the U.S. also has been asked to attend.

Photo: Craig Lovell / Monterey Jazz Festival
Monterey Jazz Festival, Monterey Co. Fairgrounds, Monterey, Calif.

The White House said Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club will be the first Cuba-based musical act to perform under its roof in more than five decades. The appearance comes amid warming relations between the U.S. and Cuba, Cold War foes whose leaders surprised the world nearly a year ago with the announcement that they were restoring diplomatic relations after more than a half-century of animosity.

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro have met twice and have spoken by telephone since their stunning December announcement.

The Buena Vista Social Club started as a members’ only venue in the Marianao neighborhood of the Cuban capital of Havana for musicians and performers based on the island nation between the 1940s and early 1960s. In its heyday, the club encouraged and continued the development of traditional Afro-Cuban musical styles such as “son,” which is the root of salsa.

In the 1990s, after the club had closed, it inspired a recording made by Cuban musician Juan de Marcos Gonzalez and American guitarist Ry Cooder with traditional Cuban musicians.

After the death of some key members, Cuban singer and dancer Omara Portuondo, guitarist and vocalist Eliades Ochoa, laud player Barbarito Torres, trumpeter Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal and trombonist Jesus “Aguaje” Ramos began spreading Cuban music internationally as The Buena Vista Social Club.

The recording became an international success as the biggest-selling Cuban album in history.

The group is on a worldwide farewell tour.