A founding member of the Buena Vista Social Club, Eliades Ochoa is one of the most renowned Cuban soneros of all time. A champion of traditional Cuban music, he is known for his distinctive cowboy hat and his penchant for wearing black, which have led some to call him “The Cuban Johnny Cash.”
Born in Santiago de Cuba in 1946, Ochoa at a young age began to play the guitar; his teachers were his parents, who were of peasant origin and self-taught. He also studied with itinerant troubadours. He joined the Septeto Típico Oriental in 1969 and officially entered the Casa de la Trova in 1970, where he began to perform regularly. In 1982, he became part of the Cuarteto Patria as director, arranger, vocalist and lead guitarist. He adapted the repertoire of Cuarteto Patria in his own style, keeping alive the tradition of Cuban folk music. His guitar stylings gave the group a new signature sound.
Also, in the ’80s, he participated with legendary sonero Compay Segundo and Cuarteto Patria in various artistic tours. With Compay Segundo, Ochoa recorded the first version of “Chan Chan,” which would become a Cuban standard. Ochoa’s lead guitar chords for this iconic song continues to inspire troubadours and listeners.
In 1996, Ochoa became one of the founders and star members of the Buena Vista Social Club, a collective organized by World Circuit Records executive Nick Gold, produced by American guitarist Ry Cooder and directed by Juan de Marcos González. The group turned into an international phenomenon and revived traditional Cuban styles and veteran musicians such as Company Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer, Rúben González, Omara Portuondo and Pío Leyva, some of whom had been forgotten.
The group’s debut disc won a Grammy Award for best tropical Latin performance in 1997; it inspired an Oscar-nominated documentary by acclaimed German filmmaker Wim Wenders and led to spin-off discs for the individual Buena Vista musicians.
Though he has previously performed at Orchestra Hall and the Ravinia Festival with the Buena Vista Social Club, Ochoa will headline his own SCP Special Concert on March 8.
His latest disc, “Guajiro,” released in May 2023, features songs mostly written by Ochoa and cements his status as a legendary Cuban performer and storyteller.