On the album “Vida” the ninety-year-old singer Omara Portuondo celebrates her career so far.

Omara Portuondo

Omara was born in Havana and has been close to music and dance since childhood. Following her sister’s example, she worked as one of the dancers of the Tropicana club. Later, thanks to her talent, she became the lead singer of the band Loquibambia and the quartet D’Aida. In addition, she performed with the best musicians, which gave rise to the stellar band Buena Vista Social Club, which also included Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González, Compay Segundo and other outstanding musicians. The energetic and immediate atmosphere around the band was beautifully captured in Wim Wenders’ 1999 film of the same name.

In 1997, at the age of 67, Omara became The Diva of Buena Vista Social Club, crowning her fame after half a century of a huge national and international solo career. Omara won her first Latin Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Tropical Album along with a Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. She received three Grammy Award nominations in 2019, and in 2021, Omara was awarded with the Gold Medal for Merit in Fine Arts by the Spanish Ministry of Culture and Sports, in a ceremony presided over by the King and Queen of Spain, and then she won the prestigious Songlines Pioneer Award for her life long contribution to Cuban music and culture.

Remote recording

At the age of 90, Omara found her self stuck in Havana due to the pandemic, and the busy lady, like everyone else, had to put the tours on hold. Known for her compassion and her sense of humanity, Omara naturally chose to express herself through music in those significant times of human history.

Omara has so much love to give and with her tremendous energy, she invited life long friends and colleagues to participate in the long distance project, a way to keep each other close. Omara’s son, Ariel Jiménez Portuondo, who has been taking care of Omara’s career and her well-being for the past two decades, organised the recordings, well knowing his mothers need of action.

Ariel found the perfect artistic producer, the recently Grammy nominated Guatemalan singer- song writer, Gaby Moreno, who has a similar soft and kind personality as Omara. This album is a tribute to Omara’s musical legacy. On “VIDA” Omara sings together with a stellar line up of legendary singers. Anyone who has loved Cuban and Latin music of the last 50 years will recognise the beauty of the timeless songs. “VIDA” reflects Omara’s thoughts and feelings during this heavy period, as well as being a general homage to life. Like so many others, she found herself mourning dear friends lost to the pandemic.

The ballads “Silencio” and “Duele” reflect her ‘melancolía’. Besides Covid, the year 2020 brought to the surface another pandemic: the one of systemic racism and violence. Unfortunately the murder of George Floyd was just reflecting that what has been a reality for black people in the US since the times of slavery. “I was very sad and upset by the murder of George Floyd. I told myself, it is time to sing “Now” again!”, Omara explains, and by this song, she elegantly show her protest in support of BLM. The song was originally song by Lena Horne in 1963, and in the 70’es, Omara made it famous in Cuba.

Joy and optimism

Deep inside Omara’s heart, there’s always joy and optimism, surplus and gratitude for what became her destiny as a singer, as an artist, as a woman, as a human. Gaby Moreno’s “Bolero a la Vida”, got them a Latin Grammy Nomination, “Honrar la Vida” sung beautifully together with Ruben Blades, “Se Feliz” with Keb’ Mo’ and “Gracias a la vida” with Natalia Lafourcade, all reflect Omara’s eternal positive spirit. “Con 2 que se quieran”, sung together with Amaury Pérez and Alexander Abreu, is an explosion of a party to leave you with a smile, dancing down your road of life.

NMR (photo: Francis Verhnet, press)