It seems only fitting that, after a stunning half-century career, Omara Portuondo, known as Cuba’s Fiancee of Feeling, is showcased in the premier series of Latin music, Buena Vista Social Club. Her self-titled album is the latest Buena Vista offering in a collection of CDs that has truly revolutionized Cuban music.
In a departure from the club’s trend of introducing elderly musicians who somehow escaped international attention (such as pianist Ruben Gonzalez or vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer), Portuondo has long been considered one of Cuba’s musical legends.
Over the past two decades, she has led a double career, alternating between contemporary post-revolutionary salsa recordings with stars such as Adalberto Alvarez and Los Van Van’s Cesar Pedroso and traditional pre-Castro son and boleros. However, in a historic 50-year career, Portuondo will undoubtedly connect with this groundbreaking recording.
Earlier this year, Nick Gold returned to Cuba to record a follow-up Buena Vista album with Omara Portuondo. During the legendary sessions in 1996 when producers Gold and Ry Cooder were recording the first Buena Vista albums, Portuondo was by coincidence at the Egrem studios. They invited her to record one song and her passionate bolero, “Veinte Anos,” became a standout on the now-classic album.
These new sessions with Portuondo mark the first Buena Vista album without Cooder’s twangy slide guitar, hence, making it a true “Cuban” album.
Perhaps what is most remarkable about these recordings is how producer Nick Gold created a unique atmosphere for every song. Each received a different treatment with its own orchestration to reflect its period in Cuban music. From heartfelt boleros such as “No Me Vayas A Enganar” to scorching mambos such as “Donde Estabas Tu?,” Portuondo shows why Cubans gave her that nickname.
Dan Rosenberg writes about music for the Metro Times. E-Mail firstname.lastname@example.org.