Concert Review: Omara Portuondo

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Thursday June 27, 2019

From Now Toronto

Review: Cuban legend Omara Portuondo kissed goodbye at Toronto Jazz Festival

“Legendary Cuban cabaret singer and dancer Omara Portuondo is on the final legs of her Last Kiss tour. She’s bidding farewell to her more than 70-year music career, and, in many ways, a bygone era. But, judging by the 88-year-old’s sounds and moves at her Toronto Jazz Festival show, she’s a long way from calling it a day. While it is her final North American tour, it’s clear that Cuban fans, at least, will have many more years of her brilliance.

Stunning in her signature silk scarf and flowing coral-hued dress, she sat confident and comfortably in sandals as if she was about to grab whisky in her left hand at any moment. Flanked by a virtuoso four-piece band (including pianist and multi-instrumentalist Roberto Fonseca, percussionist Andrés Coayo, bassist Yandy Martinez and fiery drummer Ruly Herrera) and a Cuban flag draped gracefully over the percussion set, Portuondo played with charisma and stamina. Other than a 10-minute intermission midway, during which her band wowed (Fonseca got his own standing ovation), Portuondo performed for nearly two hours, a feat even for artists decades younger than her. It helps that she has such a gorgeous catalog of music, including my personal favourites Lágrimas Negras, Besame Mucho and ¿Dónde Estabas Tú?

Portuondo gained worldwide fame in 1996 as a founding member of Buena Vista Social Club, who formed to revive the music of pre-revolutionary Cuba. The only woman in the group, Portuondo and her strong, elegant and emotive voice became a star in her own right. Though she was already famous in her home country dating back to her 50s vocal quartet Cuarteto d’Aida, the extra exposure led to solo stardom few Cuban singers have experienced.”

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