Eliades Ochoa | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Eliades Ochoa


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One of the most exaggerated angles of the Buena Vista Social Club story is how Ry Cooder swept into Cuba and revived the careers of musicians who'd long ago given up. It's true in the case of singer Ibrahim Ferrer, who was shining shoes for a living when Cooder's musical director tracked him down, but in fact many of the players were still active when their ship came in. Guitarist Eliades Ochoa--who sang the lead vocal on the ensemble's signature tune, "Chan Chan," and is rarely seen without his trademark ten-gallon hat--has fronted the long-running group Cuarteto Patria since 1978. The band was founded 61 years ago in Santiago de Cuba, which is ground zero for trova, the island's guitar-ballad tradition. Although the music is driven by familiar Afro-Cuban clave rhythms, it shares with American country music a rootsy twang and a celebratory attitude toward rural life, and on the group's first U.S. release, Sublime Ilusion (issued by Higher Octave last year), Ochoa expanded the tradition to make room for Cooder, Los Lobos guitarist David Hidalgo, and blues harpist Charlie Musselwhite. On the new Tribute to the Cuarteto Patria, Ochoa leads the current lineup--which also includes his sons Enrique and Humberto--through songs spanning all six decades of the group's history. Over the gently propulsive dance rhythms, he sings with calm but concentrated soul, adding ingenious rhythmic nuances to the phrases he pronounces with razor-sharp clarity. And of course his guitar playing is superb: he performs on a nine-stringed instrument of his own design, and his lines form a lovely polyrhythmic lattice with the six-string patterns picked by his sons. The group's sold-out gigs at the Old Town School earlier this year delivered a mix of folksy charm and topflight musicianship that needed none of the pandering translation that marred a recent performance by Ochoa's fellow Social Club star Barbarito Torres. Thursday, November 9, 8 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 773-728-6000.


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