Plaza Voices: Buena Vista Social Club

April 30 is International Jazz Day. In honor of this global art form, with its roots in Africa and its branches flourishing around the world, I share this fond memory:

I was 19 when the movie Buena Vista Social Club came out, and I had just moved from my hometown of Denver to Brooklyn, New York. I found work as an office assistant, commuting to Midtown on the subway each day. The job was awful, but the people were great--all these young, hip designers, every one of them from somewhere I'd never been, each speaking at least two languages. They worked sixty hour weeks and they played their music loud, so loud I could barely answer the phone, and I loved it. That summer it seemed like it was always "Chan Chan." Every time it came on I felt transported, lifted out our bland Ikea-made office and into someplace altogether more real, the music pulling me out like a tide, haunting and hypnotic.

I loved every song on that album, and it has followed me, weaving its way through my experiences and my relationships and becoming a part of my own story. Music, more than almost anything else, has the power to unlock the memory, bringing us back to the past, to the many selves we have been.

I'm not educated about music, and I'm ignorant of jazz in particular. But I love Nina Simone, Tom Waits, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday. And more than ten years after I first heard it, I watched the Afro-Cuban All Stars perform "Chan Chan" here in Denver, just a few blocks from where I lived. It felt like coming home and traveling far all at once.

What are some of your best music memories? Are you looking to create new ones? Check out our collection of books, movies, and music (if you do a keyword search for jazz, stand back--there's about 3200 results!). We also feature great online resources like Music Online and Volume Denver.

Need a place to start? Try these DVDs and CDs:
Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense
Jam Miami: A Celebration of Latin Jazz
Song of Lahore
Haiti Direct
The Rough Guide to Brazilian Jazz

Plazas are an open community space where immigrants from all over the world connect with people, information, and resources, building Denver’s global community. Come to practice a language, prepare for citizenship, pursue your goals, and create your future. Whatever you’re doing, we can help! Please see our events calendar for more information.

Written by Amma R. on April 17, 2017


Josh @GVR on April 22, 2017


I come from a Caribbean island, Trinidad and music is always around us. People always say that Trinis talk like we are singing (we have a musical lilt). I grew up listening to soca, reggae, rap and American pop but in my early twenties I was exposed to the music of the Afro-Cuban All Stars through the Buena Vista Social Club movie. (I almost named my first son Ibrahim but decided on Ismael in honor of Ismael Rivera). I have never seen them perform live but some of my greatest musical experiences have been attending Dia Nacional de la Salsa in Puerto Rico (honoring Eddie Palmieri), seeing Steel Pulse live in Prospect Park in Brooklyn one summer with my son (David Hinds' voice sounded exactly like on the records!) and the backyard parties my uncle used to throw the week before Carnival with djs from all over the world. I saw countless calypsonians live. As the late great Robert Nesta Marley used to say, "one good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain!"


Josh, thank you for being a loyal reader and for sharing your insight and your memories with all of us. I was touched that you almost named your son after Ibrahim Ferrer--I love his voice. I can't wait to check out some of the other artists you mention here!

Wil on April 22, 2017


This is wonderful! I love the Buena Vista Social Club!

Thank you!