Photo: Cover of the Diptych

Omara, always alive

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Reviews

It seems that the music, and the will to stay on stage or recording, is the food, the vital column of Omara Portuondo, that Creole diva that on October 29 turned 88 years old. Almost six decades after his first solo phonogram, the LP Black magic (1959), has published an album in which she walks with insolence for several genres and shows off her communicative strength and sensuality, when interpreting a repertoire mostly new for her.

Omara always (Egrem, 2018) was recognized with a Special Award in the recent Cubadisco-Primera Línea. Nominated in the category Best Traditional Tropical Album, is among the main tricks of Cuba to win the Latin Grammy that is delivered next November 15.

The CD is very well balanced, so that you can enjoy this tour of Cuban music, without tedium, although inserting the theme towards the end Hey virgin it sounds more like a flirtation with those topics of what "Cuban" should be, than a logical conclusion for the phonogram. The journey includes the rumba, the inspiration song in the filin, the oriental son, the bolero, orchestrations heir to the jazz band ...

It has a powerful start with that unbeatable tribute to Havana that is White sheets. If we thought that we had listened enough to Gerardo Alfonso's song, we were wrong.

Photo: Cover of the album Omara Siempre
Photo: Cover of the album Omara Siempre

This version opens with a brief prelude of piano, and then the rumba and the voice hover over the city, which at the beginning is a tender lament for the capital and its people, until Omara expands joyfully towards salsa, driven by the metals

Alain Pérez is the musical producer of the album, a contaminated and promiscuous arranger who harmoniously coexists several sonorities and marks this work by Portuondo on fire, distinguishing it from other recent phonograms. In the pair of songs that did not intervene as an arranger, the imagination and experimental vocation of those who sing along with Omara the beautiful bolero are missed. Amarte does not cost me anything (Gradelio and Alain Pérez).

Other songs very different from each other Sadness (Beatriz Márquez) and Another reality (Diana Fuentes) -unrecognizable by the hand, again, by Alain Pérez- show a ductile Omara, and sensitive to a broad range of emotions that qualify its interpretation.

In total there are 11 tracks, including how bonus track a duet with the Mexican Lila Downs -with the participation of Orlando Vistel (piano), Ethiel Failde (flute) and Rodrigo Sosa (quena) -, in which they return I come to offer my heart (Fito Páez) and that it leaves a bit of the general concept of the album, but it is always grateful to listen to these two great Latin American voices.

Rightly, it includes a DVD with an audiovisual directed by Joseph Ros in which the recording process is documented. There, the intimate threads that unite the Diva of the Buenavista Social Club with the songs and performers selected to accompany her, including Los Van Van, are revealed. And maybe (Juan Formell); the Septeto Santiaguero, in The oriental rose (Ramón Espigul); Issac Delgado in For next year (Héctor Quintero); Yulaysi Miranda blunting in They are to the son (Cesar Portillo de la Luz) and Aymée Nuviola in a Popurrit that goes through several classics of traditional Cuban music.

Another good decision of the producers of the phonogram is to seek the confluence of different generations, styles and rhythms, united by a voice of proverbial spontaneity. It is an album designed for the show of the diva, as the surviving queen of a bohemian and musical city that is no longer the same as that of those wonderful 50's and 60's.

Photo: Omara Back Cover Always
Photo: Omara Back Cover Always

All that sound territory drawn on the disc required instrumentalists capable of moving in various genres and styles, and many, given the lengthy recording process. There are the recurring musicians in the adventures of Omara Portuondo: the pianist Rolando Luna, Gastón Joya wielding the double bass, Rodney Barreto behind drums and Andrés Coayo on percussion. Also collaborated Ivanovi Garzón, Eduardo Sandoval and Yoandi Argudin (trombones); Thommy Lowry, Alejandro N. Fernández and Reynaldo Melián on trumpets; Jamil Schery (saxophone); in the percussion Eduardo Silveira, Adel González and Jorge Coayo; and in the choirs William Borrego and René Suárez intervened.

The graphic design of the CD promotes the idea of ​​the figure of Omara as a constant presence in Havana, similar to certain definitive marks on the walls. Certainly, one gets to wonder how Portuondo has managed to reappear from time to time, and with vitality, in the Cuban musical scene.

At the age when one imagines, with luck, caressing a great grandson or a cat, Omara Portuondo is offering concerts in Cuba and around the world, recording records furiously like a little girl who has yet to win everything. Maybe that is the secret of achieving some permanence, and she laughs when she sings because she always knew it.

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