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Cuba's first lady arrives.


IT HARDLY seems like 12 years since the music of Cuba was everywhere. On TV, radio and, irresistibly, on tour.

The release of the Ry Cooder-inspired Buena Vista Social Club album and Wim Wenders' gorgeous film, placed Cuba, and a core of wonderfully talented but largely unknown musicians in the world spotlight.

Sadly, several of those late-blooming artists - Ruben Gonzalez, Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer, for example - are no longer alive.

However, the one woman to emerge with BVSC, singer Omara Portuondo, is thankfully still with us and plays the Sage's Hall 1 next Wednesday with six top-class musicians from the Caribbean island.

Her life story has an element of Mills & Boon in terms of romanticism. Omara was born into a rich Spanish family on the island and was expected to marry one of her social peers. She didn't. Instead, she chose a handsome Cuban baseball player who was black.

Today that would scarcely raise an eyebrow but in the 1950s that was a bold step.

Omara issued her debut recording, Magia Negra, which included the song That Old Black Magic and Duke Ellington's Caravan.

She then spent 15 years with the Cuarteto Las D'Aida (with pianist Aida Diestro) a group that included her sister, Haydee.

This only serves to demonstrate that Omara had a long-established career before a chance meeting with Cooder, just before he was preparing to record BVSC. Needless to say, she was included on the album - and also the showcase gigs in Amsterdam and New York's Carnegie Hall - and in later collaborations with Ferrer and Segundo.

World Circuit, the label responsible for the hugely successful release, issued Portuondo's solo debut in 2000 to massive acclaim. That was followed by intensive world tours before the follow-up, Flor de Amor, appeared in 2004. Omara has a new album, Gracias, to show-off at next Wednesday's gig but several of the old favourites will be performed too.
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 5, 2008
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