The last ‘adiós’

brasilobserver - Feb 15 2016
Omara Portuondo leads the band with her unmistakable voice (Photo: Dunja Dopsaj)

(Leia em Português)


Iconic group from Cuba Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club comes to London for its farewell tour


By Gabriela Lobianco

Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa taught us “the value of things is not the time they last, but the intensity with which they occur”. So after a brilliant career of nearly 20 years, the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club – as it is currently named – comes to London for its farewell tour, Adiós Tour, on April 6th at The O2 Arena, under the illustrious leadership of Omara Portuondo and Eliades Ochoa, members of the first generation of this iconic Cuban group.

“Although it is a farewell, I want to keep singing for years to come,” said Omara Portuondo to the Brasil Observer. The Cuban singer and dancer began her artistic career in groups like Cabaret Tropicana and Cuarteto d’Aida, and at the height of her 84 years old she continues to impress and amuse with energetic performances. The Brazilian public, by the way, should remember: Omara toured around Brazil in 2008, along with Brazilian singer Maria Bethania, with whom she released a live DVD.

Buena Vista Social Club was a dance club for members in the city of Havana that became a popular meeting point for musicians during the 1940s. Almost 50 years after its closure, already in the 1990s, the club inspired a recording made by Cuban musician Juan de Marcos González and the American guitarist Ry Cooder, who managed to bring together several traditional Cuban musicians, including some who had played at the club in its heydays. Members of the group were found in the most unlikely places, such as the shoe shiner Ibrahim Ferrer, immortalized by his romantic duets with Omara Portuondo before he died in 2005. The band was a breath of hope in a Cuba suffering with the fall of the Soviet Union and the US embargo. And soon it achieved international fame.

The first album, Buena Vista Social Club, was released in 1997 and had more than nine million copies sold worldwide. Success also outlined after the German director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire) won an Oscar with the documentary with the same name, Buena Vista Social Club, which depicts the first concerts of the band in Berlin and New York, as well as interviews in Havana. The history of the group also has other two albums, one recorded live (Buena Vista Social Club at Carnegie Hall) and one with exclusive tracks that were saved in archives (Lost and Found). “I can only thank the many years of care and affection by the public,” acknowledged Portuondo.

The band had to deal, however, with the deaths of the oldest members, as Ibrahim Ferrer, Compay Segundo and Ruben Gonzalez. “For a long time now we have been accompanied by very talented young musicians, such as pianist Rolando Luna and singers Carlos Calunga and Idania Valdez,” explained Portuondo.

In this new formation, veterans and novice artists pack the biggest hits of the orchestra during nearly two-hour of concert, as I could witness in the presentation they made in Cork, Ireland, in 2013. The Latin beat pulsates and, without realizing it, we are dancing as the musicians on stage. It is impossible not to remember songs like “Candela”, “Chan Chan” or “Dos Gardenias” from the very moment that the first chords echo of metallic instruments conducted by more than 40 musicians who make up the troupe. However, not only old hits feed the show: Rolando Luna stands out with a beautiful interpretation on the piano of “Como Siento Yo” and Jesus ‘Aguaje’ Ramos enlightens us with a unique trombone solo in “Bodas de Oro”. Eliades Ochoa, another star of the earlier composition, dominates the stage at one point with his cowboy-style clothing to play “Guajira El Carretero”.

Portuondo hopes the audience in London to be equally intense and beautiful as other times they were in the UK. “Our audience is very diverse and with the Adiós Tour I realized that the people who accompany us for many years now attend the show with their families and children,” she said. “I invite everyone and promise a very special concert for this farewell.”

The end is close. The last presentation of the band in Havana also occurs in April. But perhaps fans can still have a glimmer of hope for a return. After all, as the song says: Siempre que te pregunto/ Que, cuándo, cómo y donde/ Tú siempre me respondes/ Quizás, quizás, quizás. Who knows?


Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club

From left to right: Eliades Ochoa, Barbarito Torres, Omara Portuondo, Guajiro Mirabal and Jesus ‘Aguaje’ Ramos (Photo: Alejandro Gonzalez)

From left to right: Eliades Ochoa, Barbarito Torres, Omara Portuondo, Guajiro Mirabal and Jesus ‘Aguaje’ Ramos (Photo: Alejandro Gonzalez)

When: April 6th

Where: The O2 Arena

Price: £42,50 – £113,25


Originally published at Brasil Observer edition 35