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Renewed appreciation for 'Buena Vista Social Club'

The film “Buena Vista Social Club” is a love letter to old Cuba by acclaimed director Wim Wenders, but it was the music -- and the then-unknown-to-most musicians who created it -- that was being celebrated by its best-documentary Oscar nomination. Now comes news that, nearly 20 years later, “lost” music from those sessions is about to be released.

Something to appreciate this weekend as the 1999 film, perhaps given extra poignancy with recent political events, is celebrated with screenings at the Coral Gables Art Cinema on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

The “Buena Vista Social Club” phenomenon began in 1996 when guitarist-producer Ry Cooder and world-music producer Nick Gold gathered some of the forgotten legends of Cuban music in Havana’s famed Egrem Studios for a recording session. They included 89-year-old Compay Segundo, Ruben Gonzalez, Cachaíto López, Omara Portuondo, Eliades Ochoa and Ibrahim Ferrer, who was supporting himself by shining shoes when Cooder and Gold introduced themselves.

The unlikely journey of these musicians, they and their decadent nightclub sound long ago ostracized by Cuba’s repressive government, to international stardom with a Grammy-winning CD, is the subject of Wenders’ documentary. A scene of the diminutive Ibrahim Ferrer walking in awe among the gleaming towers and bustle of New York City is alone worth the price of a ticket.

Segundo, Gonzalez, Ferrer and Lopez have since died. 

On March 24, Gold’s World Circuit Records will release “Buena Vista Social Club: Lost and Found,” a collection of previously unreleased tracks recorded during the original 1996 Havana sessions, along with live recordings from the musicians’ subsequent world tours. The album, distributed by Nonesuch Records, can be pre-ordered on iTunes and at Nonesuch.com.

“Over the years we were often asked what unreleased material was left in the vaults,” says Gold, who got a writing credit for Wenders’ film, in a statement. “We knew of some gems, favorites amongst the musicians, but ... we were astonished at how much wonderful music there was.”

Among the album highlights is Compay Segundo’s “Macusa,” a classic Santiago-style son with Segundo and Ochoa on vocals and guitars, recorded during the 1996 sessions that yielded their most memorable track on the original album, “Chan Chan.”

Also on the new album is Omara Portuondo doing the Cuban classic “Lágrimas Negras,” from the original Havana sessions, with Ochoa on guitar and Barbarito Torres on laoud. Ibrahim Ferrer is in the spotlight in three live tracks recorded during performances in 2000 that followed the release of his first solo album.

The documentary “Buena Vista Social Club” screens at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Coral Gables Art Cinema (260 Aragon Ave.). Tickets: $11.50, $10 seniors/students. Call 786-385-9689 or visit GablesCinema.com. For information about the album, go to Nonesuch.com.

Get daily updates on South Florida entertainment and things to do at SouthFlorida.com, on Twitter at @BenCrandell and Instagram /BenCrandell. Email: bcrandell@southflorida.com.

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