#WomenInMusic Spotlight: Omara Portuondo’s “Last Kiss” farewell world tour

Omara Portuondo’s “Last Kiss” farewell world tour


Cuban legend Omara Portuondo’s voice is steeped in the passion, defiance, and irrepressible joy of her country’s mythology. She was born in 1930 in Havana’s musically-rich neighbourhood of Cayo Hueso. The daughter of a Spanish socialite and Afro-Cuban baseball player, her mixed-race household stood in defiance of the era’s social norms. Her parents fostered an atmosphere of joy and compassion which would define not only a deep sense of empathy, but her approach to art and life as a whole.

Long before her contributions to 1997’s Ry Cooder-led, global smash, Buena Vista Social Club, Portuondo had already cemented herself as one of Latin America’s most revered vocalists.

The teenage Portuondo achieved notable popularity, first as a dancer at the legendary Tropicana Club, and not long after as a go-to back up singer. She joined the respected Las d’Aida vocal quartet in 1953, eventually spending years on the road backing up Nat King Cole.

Her 1959 debut solo album, Magia Negra, was an ambitious collision of Cuban popular music and American Jazz. It quickly placed her among the country’s top acts performing in the Filin style, a Cuban take on the orchestral pop of Sinatra, Doris Day, and Glenn Miller.

As the Communist revolution of the 1960s plunged Cuba into its long period of political and cultural isolation, Portuondo focused on her blossoming solo career, even performing on sugar cane farms for conscripted field workers. Before her international fame, Portuondo achieved the status of a national treasure, recording, performing, and eventually acting on her own television show.

Now 88 years old and performing at the top of her game, Portuondo has embarked on her “Last Kiss” world tour. This TD Ottawa Jazz Festival collaboration with the National Arts Centre Orchestra is her final North American stop.