What you and I might call a side project may not be such a “side” for the musician himself: you could argue that Ry Cooder has been building towards his Cuban work all his life. You could argue that most everything he does is a “side project”.
Ry's work – more than being a collection of side projects – appears to have a focus: I’d say it is to turn us on to the best of many different musics; be it the forgotten American 30s, be it the best of modern Africa or Cuba or …
Although Ry’s main focus over the years has its roots in America (Blind Willie Johnson, Woody Guthrie and more).
Yet another “side project” , if you prefer, features his efforts to share with us some of the best of Cuba through his work with the “Moula Banda Aces”, or his sojourn to African music with Ali Farka Toure,or from India with V.M. Bhatt of India, and many more beyond the Cuban style I feature here:
Buena Vista Social Club
When Cooder writes and performs his own work, he tends to criticism, often in support of “the working class”. Arguably, much of his output leans in this direction (How can a Poor Man Stand Such Times, Alimony, and even Fool for a Cigarette in that “the rich don’t smoke”)
I don’t have an inside line to the man’s mind, but I guess it’s true that nothing is “side” to him. Besides, Ry has worked with a number of folks on a regular basis. Again and again, Ry appears with Bobby King, Terry Evans and friends doing supporting vocal backups - hardly a side project. And well he does; their versatile 3-part harmony (and stage show) suit him and his musical choices well. Likewise his repeated collaboration with Flaco Jimenez on the accordion.
Here's yet another, where he is doing some "side work" with Mick Jagger (Memo from Turner). His guitar work absolutely drives the whole song.
Memo from Turner