Omara Portuondo, the First Lady of the Buena Vista Social Club has played with greats such as Nat King Cole. Her 2008 album, “Gracias”, celebrated an amazing sixty year career in music.
In 2011, she brings a new project with Chucho Valdés, the Cuban piano maestro, performing an exquisite set of balladry
In addition 2011 Omara will be performing alongside the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club on some tours and celebrating her 80th birthday on a very special gala tour of Europe.
Omara Portuondo's debut solo album, “Magia Negra”, appeared in 1959. It was an adventurous affair straddling Cuban music and American jazz, and included versions of “That Old Black Magic” and Duke Ellington’s “Caravan”.
After the release of her solo album she remained with the group and two years later was with Las D’Aida singing in a Miami hotel when the Cuban missile crisis caused the rupture in relations with America and began Cuba’s long period of isolation, they returned home immediately. She continued with Las D’Aida until 1967 when she left to pursue her solo career. “So many singers had gone into exile that there was a gap to be filled,” she says. Cuban culture took on greater significance and the arts were actively encouraged with the creation of various art and music schools. Many talented musicians emerged from these schools, and such artists gained a great deal of respect and status within society. Omara would represent Cuba performing at international festivals around the world as well as maintaining a high profile at home.
The early years after the revolution were difficult ones in Cuba’s history, cut-off from the west. In 1967 Omara remembers almost the entire Cuban population being conscripted in an attempt to break the sugar cane harvest record. “Everyone was participating to cut cane in the fields and as artists we were supporting the workers singing in the fields,” she recalls.
The Seventies found her singing with the top charanga outfit Orquesta Aragón. She travelled widely, appearing in various countries including France, Japan, Belgium, Finland and Sweden. Omara made many recordings over the next two decades, among her best was an album she recorded with Adalberto Alvarez in 1984 and two albums, “Palabras” and “Desafios” (with Chucho Valdés) for the Spanish label Nubenegra in the early Nineties.
BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB TM
In 1996, during the recording of World Circuit’s Buena Vista Social ClubTM sessions Omara was invited to sing a bolero and she chose “Veinte años”. She sang it together with Compay Segundo, and it became one of the highlights of the album. Omara had only a few hours to record the track as the very next day she was off to tour in Vietnam.
There’s a profound moment in Wim Wenders’ film “Buena Vista Social ClubTM” when Omara Portuondo and Ibrahim Ferrer have just finished singing the heartbreakingly beautiful “Silencio”. The song says that if the flowers in her garden see her sadness they will surely wither and die. As they take the applause, a tear forms in Omara’s eye. Ibrahim removes his handkerchief from his pocket and gently wipes away the tear. It is Wenders’ favourite scene for the way it captures the romance of Cuban music in a single frame. Often dubbed Cuba’s very own Edith Piaf, Omara Portuondo has been thrilling different audiences in the cabarets and night spots of Havana. The passionate and moving honesty of her voice made her beloved figure in Cuban music. Yet like Ibrahim Ferrer, she had to wait until the Buena Vista album to enjoy wider international recognition.
Omara went on to become part of the legendary Buena Vista performances in Amsterdam and at New York’s Carnegie Hall and appeared on the follow-up album, “Buena Vista Social ClubTM presents... Ibrahim Ferrer”
A NEW ERA
In 2000 World Circuit released “Buena Vista Social ClubTM presents... Omara Portuondo”, the third release in the series and an album which finally places her expressive voice centre stage where it belongs. Omara recorded with a dream backing band which included Buena Vista musicians Rubén González, Orlando ‘Cachaíto’ Lopez, Manuel ‘Guajiro’ Mirabal and Jesus ‘Aguaje’ Ramos, and featured guest appearances from Eliades Ochoa, Compay Segundo, Manuel Galbán and Ibrahim Ferrer.
The album was met with great acclaim, and led to Omara embarking on a world tour in 2000-2001 with fellow Buena Vista stars Rubén González and Ibrahim Ferrer, giving a whole new generation of fans the opportunity to see this illustrious trio live in concert.
2002 saw Omara return to the road with an extensive solo world tour, playing numerous dates across North America and Europe. That autumn she played the Jazz Festival in Japan, singing onstage with Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock, John
Patitucci, Wayne Shorter and Danilo Pérez. In 2003 her European summer festival dates included an amazing headlining appearance at the One World stage of the legendary Glastonbury Festival in the UK. She then went on to tour in Canada and the USA in the Autumn of 2003 together with her band which includes talented musicians such as Papi Oviedo in tres, Rolando Baro in piano and Fabian Garcia in bass.
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