Interview with Omara Portuondo on her “Last Kiss”


In “This 88-year-old Buena Vista Social Club singer is returning to LA on her final tour,” Peter Larsen (The Press-Enterprise) interviews the legendary Cuban performer Omara Portuondo, who speaks about what keeps her going and what she plans next. Here are excerpts:

When the Buena Vista Social Club came together in Havana to record a self-titled album in 1996, none of the dozen or so Cuban musicians dreamed of the success that would follow, vocalist Omara Portuondo says.

A hit record? A documentary film? Tours that would take the traditional sounds of Cuba they had performed for decades, but which by then had largely been forgotten, to the world? “Well, none of us could ever imagine that this project was going to be that special!” the 88-year-old singer said in an email exchange from her home in Havana.

But it was that special, this music that had flourished on the island nation in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s before the revolution led to its isolation from much of the rest of the world. And while some of the singers in the Buena Vista Social Club, such as Ibrahim Ferrer and Compay Segundo died in the decade after the album, movie and tours began, Portuondo, the only woman in the group, has continued to travel the world to perform. [. . .]

Q: Why did you decide to make this your last tour? How does a singer decide it’s time to leave the road?

A: Well, you know I’m young but after too many years touring I thought it was a very honest feeling to do a worldwide tour to thank the audience for so many years of love, of support, of care. This is my last worldwide tour. I’m touring in the U.S., Canada, South Korea, Singapore, France, England, and so many other countries.

But I’m not planning to stop performing and singing. But just not in long tours like the Last Kiss. I’m currently working on new projects that will keep me active. Music is my life – and my son and granddaughter as well – but it’s time to celebrate the music with a very special tour like this one.

Q: The Buena Vista Social Club brought you to the attention of the world again – how did that change your life over the 20-plus years since?

A: Personally, it was a real gift to share such a beautiful project with friends and musicians that I adore and admire. We were called the Cuban music ambassadors and this is something that you carry with honor but with a great amount of hard work and respect. I was lucky enough to tour around the globe singing and also meeting so many artists, sharing stages with amazing singers, but also working in my personal projects, tours.

We are lucky, you know, to do what we love most. But we work hard. Opportunities? Many, so many that we end up performing for Barack Obama at the White House! What else can I say?

Q: Describe a bit of your life in the decades before the Buena Vista Social Club happened.

A: It’s hard for me to describe such a long trajectory, from Cabaret Tropicana dancing (in the late ’40s), then joining Frank Emilio Flynn and the Loquimbambia Swing. Some years later, I joined the quartet Cuarteto d’Aida directed by Aida Diestro. It was the time we were touring in the U.S. Time when I was lucky enough to record my solo album ‘Magia Negra’ (in 1959)

[. . .] Q: What is the significance to you of ‘Last Kiss,’ the name of this tour?

A: Well, a kiss can mean a goodbye, a ‘so long, see you soon.’ Can be the last of many kisses. A kiss that remains forever, in your memory, when you close your eyes and listen to a special song. It can be sweet, can be spicy. Who doesn’t like to give (or) receive a kiss?

[. . .] Q: When the tour is over what plans to you have?

A: I’m currently recording a new album. A couple of weeks ago I recorded a video clip of my latest release, ‘Omara Siempre,’ that will be released very soon. Music is my life so I’ll keep singing as long as the audience wants to hear it.

Q: Looking back at your career, to what do you attribute your many successes? Your ability to overcome obstacles?

A: It’s very simple: work, work and work hard for what you love. As you say, things are not always easy, and I have to overcome too many obstacles. Acceptance and patience are part of the fame here. Do what you love, be persistent. [. . .]

For full article and interview, see


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