HAVANA, June 7th The tour life never stopped for Omara Portuondo ever since she began in her 20s as a dancer and singer in local groups in her native Havana. Famously known for her contribution to the Buena Vista Social Club since 1996, Portuondo has steadily attained legendary status for her calming, charming vocals.
The only time the singer was off stage was – like most musicians – during the onset of the global pandemic. Portuondo – along with her son, manager and caretaker Ariel Jiménez Portuondo – used the time to call on friends and collaborators to create her new album VIDA, which was released on May 12th.
The majority of the 11-track album was produced by Guatemalan singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno, whom Portuondo and her team felt was similar to her in terms of a “soft and kind personality.”
The result is a calming but important milestone in Portuondo’s recording career, with VIDA including collaborators like Mexican pop star Carlos Rivera, Puerto Rican artist Andy Montanez, Mexican artist Natalia Lafourcade, American bluesman Keb’ Mo’ and more.
Portuondo goes solo as well, on “Now,” a song originally sung by Lena Horne that the Cuban artist popularized in her country.
Portuondo – a multiple Latin Grammy winner and a Lifetime Achievement Award recipient in 2009 – will bring the swaying, comfy magic of VIDA to Bengaluru.
At the age of 92, the Cuban singing legend is about to make her India debut, with two shows at Windmills in Bengaluru on June 8th and 9th. Ahead of her performances, Portuondo responded to Rolling Stone India’s email interview.
Rolling Stone India: Is it special that your album VIDA is coming out and right after that, you are in India?
Omara Portuondo: It is very special that the Indian public knows more about my work and my songs and I hope to conquer their hearts.
What are your plans for your concert in India in terms of repertoire?
The plan is to do a concert full of songs of boleros, songs, sones, and Cuban music.
What are your plans in India, apart from the performances in Windmills?
Well, I hope to get to know their culture and see if there is time to do a city tour; I have trouble walking because of my knees but I will do something.
In the music industry, there is a feeling of ageism, although we see many musicians performing well into their 90s. Is there a misconception about a musician’s age that you think the world has that you would like to disprove?
If there is such discrimination, I suffer a lot from it because of my age. It is a lack of everything because if people still have the qualities and the public loves them, then why [discriminate]?
I have to say that [about] the promoters who made a lot of money from my concerts and what hurts me the most is the defamation of Blue Note from Tokyo Japan. I am still Omara Portuondo, 92 years old and 93 years in October. I will be 93 years old [but] sincere and professional. I am healthy, tasty and Cuban.
Can you tell me a little about your collaboration with Gaby Moreno on your new album and how it turned out?
Gaby Moreno; I met her through Santiago Larramendi, a friend of mine. We talked about working together and she was a magnificent person, very professional musically and humanely. We have sung together at an event that she invited me to in Guatemala and the result of her work on the album is exquisite.
You have Keb Mo on one of your songs and several collaborators on other songs on this album. How did it all come about?
Keb’ Mo’… I don’t know him, but I want to meet him! When you come to my shows, I send you a kiss, Keb!
Everything [on VIDA] came up with the ideas of my son Ariel and the help of Gaby Moreno and Pedro Pablo Cruz – they were my links. Also, Raul Cuza helped in the initial project.
There was our dear singer Dionne Warwick, we sang together, but the bureaucracy and lawyers prevented the duet from being released on this album. Anyway, I send many kisses to Dionne Warwick and her family. I hope someday to meet her and sing “Now” together, live. I thank everyone.
What else is in store for you after the India tour until 2023?
I am looking forward to touring the world – Eastern Europe, Europe, Colombia, Argentina, Ecuador, the U.S… I would like to stay here [in India] for a while if India wants a 92-year-old artist! [laughs]