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'Original' Buena Vista Social Club album finally out... 14 years later

By Thair Shaikh, CNN
  • Album was not recorded in 1996 as Malian musicians were 'held up' in Paris with visa problems
  • AfroCubism was recorded in Madrid over four days after chance meeting
  • The album features singer-guitarist Eliades Ochoa and Malian Kasse-Mady Diabaté

London, England (CNN) -- It's been 14 years in the making -- an album combining the sensual rhythms of Cuban music with the desert-inspired sounds of west Africa.

Chance and circumstance delayed its birth -- when the American guitarist Ry Cooder and the British record producer Nick Gold arrived in Havana in the late 1990s intending to record an Afro-Cuban album, the African musicians had, as Cooder said at the time, "got hung up in Paris" with visa problems.

With a studio already booked, the pair thought they should record something anyway, so they asked the singer-songwriter Juan de Marcos González to round up some Cuban musicians.

González spent a day or two knocking on the doors of some of Cuba's greatest muscians, many of whom were retired on modest pensions or had been long forgotten, like Compay Segundo and Ibrahim Ferrer.

The resulting album was called the Buena Vista Social Club -- the group eventually played at the Carnegie Hall in New York, won a Grammy, spawned an acclaimed film by the award-winning director Wim Wenders and sold eight million albums.

Now 14 years later and another chance meeting has resulted in Malian musicians from west Africa and Cuban musicians playing together to record AfroCubism, officially released this week.

"The success of the original albums meant we got sidetracked, but we were always asking ourselves, 'When are we going to do this?' then we were alerted to the fact that Eliades Ochoa and the Malian musicians were going to be in Madrid at the same time," Gold told CNN.

The album was recorded in Madrid over four days and Cooder helped with the "sequencing" said Gold.

The album features, among others, the veteran Cuban singer-guitarist Eliades Ochoa and the acclaimed Malian singer Kasse-Mady Diabaté.

Ochoa had been Cooder and Gold's original choice to record with the Malians.

Gold says the inspiration for this album originally came from hearing Malian musicians playing "languid" Cuban music in an outdoor club in Bamako, the Malian capital.

There is a long history of fusing Malian and Cuban music -- during the 1960s the former Cuban president Fidel Castro was a close ally of a newly-independent Mali, resulting in the promotion of Cuban music there and some musical cross-pollination.

In the end it also transpires that the special relationship between Cuba and Mali meant that the Malian musicians did not even require a visa to enter Havana from Paris all those years ago.

AfroCubism begins a world tour in November, including dates in London, New York and Boston, Mass.