Visit this artist's website: http://www.omaraportuondo.com
While other much-loved Buena Vista Social Club stars, like Rubén González and Ibrahim Ferrer, were lured out of retirement, OMARA PORTUONDO has been continually performing in public since the age 15, a legendary singer whose voice reflects a long, creative life of passion and music. She has been singing professionally for an incredible 70 years, and while revolutions and wars shook the globe, she has carried on, with indomitable elegance.
As a shy 15-year-old, she broke into the lush, sequined world of cabaret, following in the chorus line shoes of sister Haydee, and became a dancer at the Tropicana, the glamorous club that continues still in Havana. But singing was her forte, and she would spend weekends singing American jazz with the blind pianist Frank Emilio in his band Loquibambia Swing.
She sang in the all-girl Orquesta Anacaona in 1952, before with Haydee, with another female group Cuarteto D’Aida, a 1950s Cuban Spice Girls, directed and named after pianist Aida Diestro. Things began to really move for Omara and the group were signed to RCA Victor, toured the U.S., and backed up some of the biggest stars of the moment like Benny Moré (“the Barbarian of Rhythm”), Edith Piaf, Bola de Nieve, and Nat King Cole at the Tropicana.
As a soloist Omara accompanied some of the great innovators like Arsenio Rodriguez and Isolina Carillo. Her first solo album was released way back in 1959, entitled Black Magic.
After the Revolution of the same year, Omara carried on touring the States until things reached a crisis point with the Missile Crisis and Cuban-American relations were broken off. Omara and the Cuarteto D’Aida were in Miami when her sister, along with many other Cuban performers, decided to stay. Omara returned to Cuba and in a way filled a gap left by the departure of so many musicians from Cuba, and her career flourished – at first with a reformed Cuarteto D’Aida and then, from 1967 onwards as a solo artist.
The U.S. was off limits, but she toured with Orquesta Aragon in Europe and in Africa. She married and divorced and her son became her manager. Omara, a documentary film about her career, won a prize at Cannes in 1986.
In 1997, just when she had hit normal retirement age and might be expecting to slow down, the Buena Vista Social Club project boosted her profile throughout the world. The eponymous album ricocheted round the world and novelist Salman Rushdie called 1998 “that Buena Vista summer.”
Her solo album of 2000 picked up a Grammy and was followed by the Brazilian tinged Flor De Amor in 2004, which featured a song with family resonance, called “Tabu,” about inter-racial love. Other recordings and tours followed – a 60th anniversary album Gracias and stellar collaborations with Cuban jazz pianist Chucho Valdés. She was the first Cuban woman to be an International Ambassador for the Red Cross. In recent years, she’s sung everywhere from the Royal Opera House in London to the Latin Passion festival in Hong Kong.
The best way to celebrate Omara’s 85th year and 70 years of performing professionally? A very special worldwide tour, which includes some exceptional invited guests. The great Cuban diva and artistic ambassador of her country wants to celebrate with a grand fiesta which represents the impressive sweep of her career – at every stop meeting with old friends and new to perform much-loved Cuban classics together, from “Besame Mucho” to “Veinte Años.” The tour will reflect different aspects of her long career, taking it way back to her younger years and her continuing love of elegant cabaret, from the Buena Vista days right up to the present with different tastes and flavors of what will be a musical feast, full of piquant sabrosura.
As Cuban writer Ivan Garcia put it, “Her voice is still lush, as it was when she sang in her parents’ dressing room. In Cuba, some things are lacking. But we do have Omara Portuondo. She still lives in an apartment overlooking the sweep of the Malecon in Havana, and even if her dynamic career slows down it’s hard to imagine she won’t be lured out to some of her old haunts like the Café Cantante or the Tropicana.”
Producer Ry Cooder said of the Buena Vista Social Club musicians that he was lucky, as we all are, to “have caught the tail end of a comet” – of a great music culture that was cut off for decades.
Omara Portuondo is a diva in the best sense, an ambassador of Cuba to the world. Now in her mid-80s, there is a sense in which the curtains of an era are slowly, elegantly coming down. But she will forever, as the old show business adage has it, “Always leave them wanting more.”
— from a biography by Peter Culshaw