Eliades Ochoa

Saturday, August 10, 2024
Doors: 6:30pm / Show: 8:00pm

The rugged features, the signature hat, the cowboy boots and the iconic ‘man in black’ image… The songs from the school of life imbued with the sort of hard-earned, country-tinged wisdom that can’t be bought. You don’t have to look or listen too hard to understand why Eliades Ochoa is often called ‘Cuba’s Johnny Cash’.  Yet if parallels abound, his new album Guajiro also shows him to be a singular voice with his own unique style and sound, rooted deep in Cuban tradition but with an appeal that is as timeless as it is universal.

Back in 1997 when he shot to international recognition as a member of the Grammy-winning Buena Vista Social Club, Eliades was the young gun. True, he was by then in his 50th year – but he was still in the flush of youth compared to legendary veterans Compay Segundo and Ibrahim Ferrer, who had been playing since before he was born and with whom he duetted unforgettably on classic songs such as “Chan Chan” and “Candela”.

A quarter of a century later, Eliades is now the veteran with a legendary back story of his own and Guajiro presents Cuba’s  very own ‘Man In Black’ as we’ve never heard him before. The songs on Guajiro – most of which are his own compositions – are the most intimate and personal Eliades has ever recorded. “The album tells a lot about me and my history,” he says. “It’s really the story of my life and each song has a lot of meaning.”

What triggered his late blossoming as a songwriter he isn’t entirely sure – other than a feeling that the time was ripe, the inspiration was strong and that life’s journey had provided him with insights which cried out to be shared. “It’s a different stage of my life from when we made Buena Vista,” he says.  “People like Compay and Ibrahim had a big history and lots of stories and making that album with them opened doors to the entire world. Now it feels like the right time for me to tell my stories. I’m in a good place and these songs are close to my heart. You could say it’s my manifesto.”

In making Guajiro he called upon an array of sympathetic collaborators. Producer Demetrio Muñiz represents a direct link to Buena Vista, having acted for many years as the musical director of the touring band that spun-off from the original project. But others are drawn from far beyond the shores of Cuban music, including the Mississippi blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite, Fania All-Stars legend Rubén Blades and indie-rock auteur Joan Wasser, who records as Joan As Police Woman.

“It’s different from the albums I’ve done before, taking me outside my comfort zone”, Eliades notes. “I’ve been playing traditional son cubano for many years  and at this point in my life I wanted to do something a little different – and I’ve always loved collaborating and being open to other rhythms and working with different artists.” Musselwhite is an old friend of more than 20 years standing who played on Eliades’ first post-Buena Vista album, 1999’s Sublime Illusion. Here they renew acquaintance on the lovely country/blues harmonica-guitar duet “West” as Eliades nostalgically recalls the horse he owned and loved as a child.

Rubén Blades is another compadre of long-standing who lends his distinctive vocals to “Pajarito Voló” (Little Bird Flew), another Eliades composition about a woman who refuses to bend to the whims and prejudices of men and society but is couched in the metaphor of a bird which escapes the confines of its cage to fly to a life of new-found freedom.

“Creo en la Naturaleza” (I Believe in Nature), on which the voices of Eliades and Joan As Police Woman combine gloriously, is another highlight on which  Eliades reflects poetically on the beauty of the natural world and what really matters in human existence.

Other Eliades compositions include the contagiously joyful opener “Vamos a Alegrar el Mundo” (We’re Bringing Joy To The World);, “Abrazo de Luz” (Embrace of Light), a poignant meeting of bolero and flamenco composed during the pandemic when Eliades was separated from loved ones; and “Canto para Ti Guajira” (I Sing for You Guajira), an homage to the music and traditions of the Cuban countryside in which he grew up.

The handful of songs not written by Eliades were chosen for their personal significance in his life.  “Soy Guajiro” (I am a Farmer) is the tale of a simple man from peasant stock which Eliades makes his own as he remembers his own humble origins in the fields of eastern Cuba.  “Ando Buscando una Novia” (I’m Looking for a Girlfriend) and “Anita Tun Tun Tun” were both composed by Sergio Rivero, an old friend from Eliades’ home town. There’s a fine new arrangement of the traditional Puerto Rican Plena “Se Soltó un León” (The Lion Was Released) while “Los Ejes de Mi Carreta” (The Axles Of My Cart) is a folkloric song by Argentina’s Atahualpa Yupanqui, which evokes memories of Eliades’ rural childhood and is graced by some wonderful bouzouki playing by Amir-John Haddad. 

The story Eliades Ochoa relates on Guajiro began in the rural province of Santiago de Cuba in eastern Cuba, where he was born in 1946 into a family of farmers and musicians. By the age of six was playing the guitar and its uniquely ringing, Cuban variant known as the tres. When he was 12 the family moved to Santiago, a friendly, slow-paced city which prides itself in rivalling Havana as the musical capital of the island and is famous as the birthplace of several of Cuba’s best-loved rhythms, including son.  To this day it remains the capital of the country’s folk music, heard particularly in the guajira traditions of the songs sung by peasants and farmers from the surrounding countryside.

It is on this rich heritage that Eliades’ music has always drawn and by his mid-teens he was a familiar figure singing and playing guitar in the bars of Santiago. 

By the early 1970s he was a regular at the Casa de la Trova, one of Cuba’s most famous music clubs and still a favourite port of call on the itinerary of international tourists. Eliades played there as a member of Quinteto Oriente and with Septeto Tipico before he took over the leadership of the renowned Cuarteto Patria in 1978. Not so much a band as a Cuban institution, Cuarteto Patria was formed in 1939 by the guitarist Pancho Cobas, who on his retirement four decades later hand-picked Eliades to inherit his mantle. Inspired by Eliades’ innate musical curiosity and ambition, Patria expanded its repertoire from the criolla, guaracha and bolero songs the group had been playing for 40 years and fashioned a more contemporary, updated style.

By the time he joined the Buena Vista Social Club sessions, he had been leading Cuarteto Patria for 18 years and had supervised the recording of the group’s first two albums. Away from the group, in 1986 he had also made the first recording of “Chan Chan” with Compay Segundo – the song the pair of them would revive together a decade later as the atmospheric opening track of the Buena Vista Social Club album.

To the 90 year old Compay and the other Buena Vista ancients, Eliades was ‘the young ‘un’, even though he had been a professional musician for three decades. His vitality made a potent contribution to Buena Vista’s success, both on the eight-million selling album and in Wim Wenders’ evocative, award-winning documentary film of the same name. He also joined the veterans at the handful of historic live dates played by the original line-up in Amsterdam and at New York’s Carnegie Hall. It led to Virgin Records Spain signing him as a solo artist and a string of fine albums featuring appearances by Ry Cooder, David Hildago of Los Lobos and Raul Malo of the Mavericks among others, as well as his loyal comrades from Cuarteto Patria, which he continued to lead.

His 2012 album Un Bolero Para Ti won four Latin Grammy Awards and he was also a key collaborator in World Circuit’s 2010 Grammy-nominated album AfroCubism, which brought together the finest musicians from Mali and Cuba in a glorious, border-breaking celebration of shared virtuosity. Eliades was also the first Cuban to be awarded the Latin Award Canada in 2018. 

In 2018, his career was the subject of the documentary film Eliades Ochoa from Cuba to the World, directed by Cynthia Biestek. Now with the release of Guajiro, he adds a new and revealing chapter that weaves together all the threads and strands of his storied life and career into a definitive and compelling personal testament that honours his past while ambitiously taking his music into pastures new. 

Per New York City’s guidance, Sony Hall is requiring all guests, staff & musicians ages 12+ to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to enter. Children ages 5 to 11 must have received at least one dose.

Proof of vaccination may include your physical CDC card, photo of your CDC card, NYC Covid Safe App, or the NYS Excelsior Pass.

In addition to the vaccination policy, New York City continues to encourage masks for all indoor gatherings, except while you are actively eating and drinking.