Omara Portuondo

Buena Vista Social Club Presents

The Buena Vista Social Club Presents Omara Portuondo appears in Laxson Auditorium on the Chico State campus April 4.

Remember the documentary film and million-selling album Buena Vista Social Club, wherein reverent American guitarist Ry Cooder traveled to Cuba with his son to track down and record some great, lost Havana singers and musicians? Well, this is one of the countless children borne of that Grammy-winning recording—a solo effort from the leading lady of the film, veteran Cuban diva Omara Portuondo.

Backed by a Havana dream band orchestrated by Demetrio Muñiz and including Rubén González (piano), Cachaíto López (bass), Guajiro Mirabal (trumpet) and Jesús “Aguaje” Ramos (trombone), this recording (from 2000) is guaranteed to cut through your speakers like a hot knife through butter. Wonderful string and horn arrangements flow like tropical breezes beneath the commanding presence of Portuondo, who ignites each track with veteran vocal skills while reflecting over a career that began in the early ‘50s and encompasses a variety of Cuban styles, including the jazz-influenced filín, dance-oriented Cuban big-band music, and traditional bolero and trova styles.

But this is more than just warm dance music and romantic ballads. It’s culturally rich soul music with mesmerizing phrasing that’s as lyrical as any you’ll find anywhere. Lyrics like "Along the path of my sad life I found a flower/whose sweet perfume intoxicated me/ But as soon as the aroma reached me, it faded away/ like my soul, sad and alone" (translated from "Ella y yo") are powerfully delivered by the beautiful Portuondo with heart full of intensity in the tradition of Billie Holiday and singers like her. In a phrase: This is all good. Should be the show of the year at Chico State.