By Don Macica
It’s been four years since the Buena Vista Social Club concluded their “Adiós” tour and almost three since we last saw Omara Portuondo in Chicago. So it was with a measure of both excitement and trepidation that I greeted the news that the legendary Cuban diva was returning to Chicago on May 1. Excitement, because unlike her 2016 concert at Symphony Center, she would be performing this time at the intimate and acoustically perfect Old Town School of Folk Music. Trepidation because the concert’s title was “El Último Beso (The Last Kiss)”. Could she, at the age of 88, finally be retiring? In an interview that I did with her for Agúzate in October 2016, she stated flatly “Retirement? I’m just a young girl! There are some good things happening, a documentary movie, a lot of ideas, recordings… I’m grateful to do what I love most.”
Whether or not we ever get to see Omara Portuondo again in Chicago is unknown, so this might be our last kiss. But as she makes clear in this new interview, it is certainly not hers. One thing is for sure. You will want to be at the Old Town School on May 1 when they present “Omara es Cuba – El Último Beso”.
DM – Last night I heard someone refer to the Chicago concert as being part of your farewell tour, and, of course, “El Último Beso” is in the title. Say it isn’t so!
OP – Well, I’m not retiring, the Last Kiss is my last worldwide tour, which will take a couple of years and will visit a lot of countries. But I will keep performing, probably not on long worldwide tours, but music is my life!
DM – I understand that this tour will run until 2020 and truly be global, with stops in Asia, Europe
OP – That’s correct; I’m really looking
DM – I feel that we are incredibly lucky that you are mostly playing smaller, intimate theaters and clubs on this tour, as we’ve grown accustomed to seeing you in larger concert halls. Was this a deliberate choice?
OP – I’m happy performing, true though that on clubs the connection is very close and intimate. It’s priceless to see the audience reaction, their smiles
DM – You are once again being supported by Roberto Fonseca and his band. Fonseca is that rare musician who completely understands the core qualities of classic Cuban music yet is also strikingly adventurous and globally attuned in some of his own work. What has it been like working with him for the past several years?
OP – He is a unique human being. So gifted and talented. That’s our musical heritage and education, young musicians have a profound respect for our musical tradition but at the same
DM – As I understand it, the repertoire on this tour will focus on classics, including songs from the Buena Vista era. Can we expect any surprises?
OP – Oh, definitely yes. I’m listening to all my albums, talking with the musicians that will be with me
Omara Portuondo, Old Town School of Folk Music, Wednesday, May 1, 8 PM – oldtownschool.org