CD: Omara Portuondo, Gracias

(World Village)

For western audiences, she's the woman who suddenly popularised her country's music a decade ago, as the female star of the Buena Vista Social Club. But for Cubans, Omara Portuondo means far more. She is the best known of the club's lineup because she has an extraordinary history, from her early career as a dancer in the famous Tropicana cabaret, back in the 40s, through to her intimate, emotional vocals with the Quarteto Las d'Aida and Orchesta Aragón. She's now 78, but her singing is still personal, distinctive and gently passionate. There are moments, as with the duet with her granddaughter, when she is in danger of switching from the charming to the slushy. But the set is dominated by thoughtful ballads, with suitably sensitive backing by the likes of pianists Roberto Fonseca and Chucho Valdés. Even now, she is still experimenting, as shown by her jazz-tinged duet with Richard Bona, the bass player and percussionist from Cameroon or (best of all) her laid-back, gently swinging collaboration with that great Brazilian veteran Chico Buarque. Omara Portuondo is still Cuba's great diva.


Robin Denselow

The GuardianTramp

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