Omara Portuondo

TD Ottawa Jazz Festival Omara Portuondo Main Stage June 28, 2019

By Abbey Wolf

One of Cuba’s most treasured artists Omara Portuondo graced the stage at the Ottawa Jazz fest last night. The evening was  warm with a slight wind and a sunburst sky, and my memories of Cuba were awakened. Even for those who had never traveled there, it was easy to get a sense of what it must be like when serene rhythmic sounds fill the air. On every corner street, people are dancing “suave style”. 

Ottawa Jazz Festival Omara Portuondo June 28, 2019. Photo: Abbey Wolf

Portuondo, the sole female member of Bueno Vista Social Club was already a renowned and beloved bolero legend in her native Cuba before she joined the band. She started out playing club circuits in Havana with her older sister, gaining recognition and fame over the years to follow. The sisters eventually split, taking different paths and Portuondo launched her solo career in full force releasing not one, but two solo albums in 1967 under the Arieto label.

Portuondo would continue to perform live and tour for decades, playing with legendary artists such as Nat King Cole and Brazil’s Maria Bethânia.

Her career has spanned over generations and she has contributed so many gifts to the industry. She has recorded over 39 albums (including singles) to date. Now, after 70 years of dedication to her craft, this is her final international tour, (appropriately titled “ The last kiss tour”).

The band casually entered the stage and took their places while Roberto Fonseca, gently escorted her onto the stage. Drummer Ruly Herrera’s expression is priceless as he beams while watching her. 

Ottawa Jazz Festival Omara Portuondo, Roberto Fonseca, Ruly Herrera June 28, 2019. Photo: Abbey Wolf
Ottawa Jazz Festival Ruly Herrera. June 28, 2019. Photo: Abbey Wolf
Ottawa Jazz Festival Omara Portuondo and Roberto Fonseca, June 28, 2019. Photo: Abbey Wolf

She wore an elaborately embroidered guayabera style shirt and blue striped pants. She was dressed spirited and youthful, or, as Fonseca introduced her “ Hot and sexy”. At 88 years young, this diva can pull it off!

She began her set with “Drume Negrita”, her warm and loving smile touched us all as she greeted us with open arms. She touched hearts with “Adios Felicidad”, immediately intriguing the crowd, they instantly submitted to her charms. Her sweet soothing voice had them swaying in their seats.

The rhythms were deep and delicious when bassist Yandy Martinez Gonzalez played his beautiful upright base. 

Ottawa Jazz Festival Yandy Martinez Gonzalez wields his beautiful upright bass. June 28, 2019. Photo: Abbey Wolf

The vibe was tranquil and nostalgic at first, and then slowly worked its way up the energy scale to where everyone had risen from their seats, clapping and dancing to the rhythms of the music. 

Following the set break, it was a delightful surprise to see the NAC Orchestra pouring onto the stage to join Portuondo and her band.


Ottawa Jazz Festival NAC Orchestra accompanied Omara Portuondo. June 28, 2019. Photo: Abbey Wolf

They played classics like “Guantanamera”, and Portuondo had her fun with the crowd getting them to sing “Guantanamera” each time with her.

She saved the best song for last, the famed “Besame Mucho”, which was divine with her paradisiacal voice and the NAC orchestra, playing behind her. Her good-bye was short and sweet. She waved and blew a kiss to the crowd, and elegantly took her leave.

Portuondo will continue her tour across Europe, Scandinavia, and Russia, until the end of August.

Musicians: Roberto Fonseca (Piano) Ruly Herrera (drums) Yandy Martinez Gonzalez (bass), NAC Orchestra.

Set List

  1. “Intro”
  2. “Drume Negrita”
  3. “Adios Felicidad”
  4. “Dos Gardenias”
  5. “Soy Cubana”
  6. “Balada” (trio)
  7. “Abakuá” (trio)
  8. “Lágrimas Negras”
  9. “La Sitiera”
  10. “Guantanamera”
  11. “Besame Mucho”