Magic is Something She Has

Omara Portuondo returns to UCLA Live?s Royce Hall, Nov. 1

Published on LatinoLA: October 18, 2003

Magic is Something She Has

?Magic is something Portuondo has in spades.??The Washington Post

UCLA Live presents Buena Vista Social Club vocalist Omara Portuondo, one of Cuba?s greatest singers, in a special appearance at UCLA?s Royce Hall, 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 1, 2003. This performance is approximately 90 minutes with one intermission.

Portuondo will perform works from her discography spanning more than half a century, as well as songs from her 2000 U.S. debut solo release, ?Buena Vista Social Club Presents ? Omara,? and selections from the original ?Buena Vista Social Club,? produced by Ry Cooder in 1997.

Portuondo will be joined by Rolando Bar? on piano, Fabi?n Garcia on double bass, Papi Oviedo on tres, Andr?s Coayo on timbales, Chaing Liang on congas, Julio Guerra on bongos, Antonio Sesma on trombone, Miguelito Vald?s and Roberto Garcia on trumpets, musical director Alfred Thompson and Ra?l Nacianceno on saxophones, Miguel Antu?a on baritone saxophone, and Swami Jr. on guitar.

Long recognized in Spanish speaking countries as one of the great interpreters of Cuban classics, Portuondo has often been compared in stature to the likes of Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday. She recently gained international fame for her participation on Cooder?s blockbuster ?Buena Vista Social Club? and Wim Wenders? documentary of the same name.

Born in Havana in 1930, Portuondo began her career as a singer and dancer at the infamous Tropicana Revue. Her musical career began in the 1950s, when she and her sister Haydee sang American jazz standards and later formed the female vocal quartet Cuarteto Las D?Aida with Elena Bourke and Moraima Secada, led by the pianist Aida Diestro.

In 1959, Portuondo released her first solo album, ?Magia Negra,? a collection of American jazz and Cuban favorites, which included versions of ?That Old Black Magic? and Duke Ellington?s ?Caravan.? Two years later, she was with Cuarteto Las D?Aida singing in a Miami hotel when the Cuban missile crisis ruptured relations with the U.S. and began Cuba?s long period of isolation. Portuondo immediately returned home while her sister Haydee stayed in America. She continued with a revamped Las D?Aida until 1967, when she left to pursue her solo career.

Cooder ran into Portuondo while he was in Havana in 1995 recording with The Chieftains. When he returned the following year with World Circuit?s Nick Gold for the Buena Vista Sessions, Portuondo was coincidentally in the Egrem studios at the same time. Cooder immediately invited her to sing the bolero ?Veinte Anos? with the late Compay Segundo, which became one of the highlights of the album.

She went on to become part of the legendary Buena Vista performances in Amsterdam and at New York?s Carnegie Hall, and appeared on the follow-up album, ?Buena Vista Social Club presents ? Ibrahim Ferrer.? ?Buena Vista Social Club Presents? Omara,? the third release in the series, finally places her expressive voice center stage.

Today Portuondo lives in a high-rise apartment just off the Malecon in Havana with magnificent views over the sea. She remains a flamboyant fixture on the music scene, singing regularly at the Tropicana, the Delirio Habanen and the Cafe Cantante?one of the world?s great divas who is only now emerging from Cuba?s long isolation to achieve the international acclaim she so richly deserves.

This event is sponsored, in part, by KCRW 89.9 FM.

Tickets to Omara Portuondo are available for $55, $45 and $35 at the UCLA Central Ticket Office at the southwest corner of the James West Alumni Center, online at www.UCLALive.org and at all Ticketmaster outlets. For more information or to charge by phone, call 310-825-2101. UCLA students may purchase tickets in advance for $25. Student rush tickets at the same price are available to all students with a valid i.d. one hour prior to show time.

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