“Buena Vista Social Club” fans, hold onto your gitarras.
Though the now-legendary 1997 album of traditional Cuban popular songs produced by Ry Cooder has gone platinum, spurred by the largest crossover audience ever for Latin music, Wim Wenders’ documentary will not be eligible for any Oscars in the music categories.
This is not news to Oscar watchers and Academy veterans, used to seeing dozens of docus about music, from Michael Wadleigh’s “Woodstock” to Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz,” slotted strictly into the documentary race and far away from any Oscar music consideration.
“This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, really,” says a longtime member of the music branch. “All of the music in ‘The Buena Vista Social Club’ is previously authored. None are original songs written especially for the film, as required by the Academy rules. We’ve seen this many times before with nonfiction films about music. But it can compete in the documentary category.” (Indeed, “Buena Vista” is one of 12 finalists for feature documentary.)
Surprise for fans?
This may surprise the passionate fan base of “Buena Vista,” however, unaware of the Academy’s necessarily defined and detailed rules, which stress original achievement. For some, however, the strong symbiosis between the album and the film may be obscuring the Academy’s requirements.
As Los Angeles Times music writer Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez notes, “The film helped make the album a big crossover success. While banda, salsa and merengue are generally working class phenomena, this project attracted a middle-class-and-up kind of fan base. Before the film opened, the album wasn’t on the charts. But when it opened, the album went way up.”
But, as far as originality goes, the songs on the album — as well as on several “Buena Vista” spinoffs, including Ibrahim Ferrer’s Grammy-nominated and strong-selling “The Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer” — are covers of older tunes.
“The songs themselves aren’t originals,” says Valdes-Rodriguez, “and their music changes from concert to concert, as in jazz.”