Festival international de Jazz de Montréal presents

Omara Portuondo

A true gem of the Cuban musical culture, the legendary figure of the Buena Vista Social Club will celebrate her life and music during a farewell tour that will stop in our city. A great opportunity to see one last time, a woman who has been singing professionally for 70 years and who, while revolutions and wars were shaking the world, pursued her career with indomitable elegance and unquenchable passion.

The story of the life of Omara Portuondo (Havana, 1930) reads like something out of a film script. Just as in any other Cuban home, the future singer and her siblings grew up with the songs which her parents, for lack of a gramophone, sang to them. Those melodies, some of which still form part of her repertoire, were young Omara’s informal introduction to the world of music.

However, before taking up singing as a career, a fortuitous event led her to first try her hand at dancing, following in the footsteps of her sister Haydee, who was a member of the dance company of the famous Tropicana cabaret. One day, in 1945, two days before the opening night of a big new show, one of the dancers gave in her notice. Having watched her sister rehearse for hours on end, Omara knew the steps by heart and so was offered the vacant place in the company. “It was a very classy cabaret”, Omara recalls, “but it didn’t make any sense. I was a shy girl and was embarrassed at showing my legs”. It was her mother who actually convinced her not to let the opportunity go by and so she began a dancing career that led her to form a legendary duo with Rolando Espinosa and, in 1961, to become a teacher of popular dance at the Escuela de Instructores de Arte.

Magia Negra, Omara’s debut record, was released in 1959. It combined Cuban music with American jazz and included versions of “That Old Black Magic” and “Caravan”, by Duke Ellington. Omara later joined one of Cuba’s most important orchestras, La Orchesta Aragón, with which she travelled all over the world and also recorded several albums, such as the one she did with Adalberto Álvarez in 1984 and Palabras and Desafíos, both on the Spanish Nubenegra label and on which she was accompanied by Chucho Valdés.

However, what really catapulted Omara Portuondo to her well-earned fame was her appearance in the cinema in the mid-1990s. After collaborating in the recording sessions for Buena Vista Social ClubTM (World Circuit), on which she sang “Veinte Años” with Compay Segundo. Omara Portuondo, in a duet with Ibrahim Ferrer, gave a profoundly moving rendition of that heart-rending number “Silencio”. The success of “Silencio” gave a new impulse to Omara’s career and to those of other artists involved in the project. In the following years she travelled the world and recorded various songs with a star-studded group which included great names of Cuban music such as Rubén González, Orlando “Cachaíto” López and Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal.

Omara was the star of the third launching of the Buena Vista Social ClubTM: Buena Vista Social ClubTM presents… Omara Portuondo (World Circuit). Released in 2000, the album was enthusiastically received and, subsequently, Omara went on tour with Rubén González and Ibrahim Ferrer, thus giving a whole new generation of music lovers the opportunity to discover this illustrious trio live on stage. She toured Europe, travelled to Japan, and performed in the USA and Canada.

For information and tickets: www.placedesarts.com  514-842-2112 or 1-866-842-2112