Live Music + Gig Reviews

Omara Portuondo @ Barbican, London

12 March 2002

The Barbican was packed full and everyone seemed very excited at this chance to see and hear the flamboyant leading lady of Buena Vista Social Club. On a cold spring evening in the drab surrounds of London, what could be better than some Latin passion?

First on stage came support act Lila Downs, a Mexican girl with her Mexican band. She demonstrated an incredible voice that went from lower alto to top soprano with remarkable ease. The music, as one might expect, was traditionally Mexican, but there were infusions of African, Indian and contemporary Mexican rhythms and influences in her repertoire. She sang in Spanish, but also ancient Mayes and English. Her band was exemplary – one of them even managing to play piano, flute and sax on one song. She was fabulously inventive, but for all that some people in the audience still had the feeling that she was from Brixton.

Cuban magic was in the air as we awaited the star of the evening – and she didn’t disappoint. With a glamorous, even coquettish appearance onto the stage, the audience was straight into it, ready to dance and sing with her.

At 71 years of age she still has the Cuban passion in her. Dressed in a sparkling suit, she danced about and moved the audience with her amazing voice and spirit. The performance was great, the big band of fifteen musicians, the ‘Maestro’ and her, all different age groups. Omara made sure that everyone was noticed. Everybody did his/her individual performance with Omara’s help. There was her and the sax, her and the piano, her and the trumpet, her and the guitar, Omara playing different stage ‘games’ with them.

“Sexy!” sang the band to her and how very true it was for all to see. Clapping, dancing, smiles all around, the audience lapped it all up.

“Fabulous!” and “Fantastic!” were just some of the superlatives floating around afterwards. Definitely a night out to remember. Thanks Omara.

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Omara Portuondo @ Barbican, London