AS CUBAN REVOLUTIONS GO, it was an entirely peaceable uprising – but its impact could not have been more profound. On the release of the Buena Vista Social Club™ album in 1997, few outside the specialist world music audience initially took much notice of the record’s elegantly sculpted tunes and warm, acoustic rhythms. Then something extraordinary occurred. The album was spectacularly reviewed by a few discerning critics, but although their words of praise did Buena Vista’s cause no harm, they cannot explain what subsequently happened. Good reviews create an early surge in sales, but unless it’s a big pop release sustained by an expensive TV advertising campaign, the established pattern is that interest then slowly tails off. Instead, Buena Vista’s sales figures kept steadily rising week by week, building almost entirely by word-of-mouth until it achieved critical mass: all who heard the record not only fell in love with Buena Vista’s irresistible magic, but were then inspired to play or recommend the album to everyone they knew. It was one of those rare records that transcended the vagaries of fad and fashion to sound timeless but utterly fresh. Once you heard it, you had to have a heart of stone not to be swept away by the music’s romantic impulses and uninhibited exuberance.
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