Gracias, Omara Portuondo

World Village, Cuba ****
Rating: 86
By Carlos Reyes

Embraced by a generation that witnessed the iconic gathering that is the Buena Vista Social Club, the charming musicians continue to develop musical personality. Omara Portuondo won our hearts in that scene from the documentary where she walked through the streets of Cuba, lighting up the island and later illuminating a sold-out Carnegie Hall. Her follow ups as a solo artist have been nothing less than masterful productions unable to find a comfort zone, Omara Portuondo continues her search for musical ambiguity, wherever she is heading, we must feel fortunate she is taking us with her. Her new album Gracias due next month, is her most ambitious production yet, a top-class world album that should place her along Mercedes Sosa as the most important soloist of Latin traditional music. The album is a festivity to a career of boleros seasoned by tropical burst; the fest also gathered an impressive lineup of musicians with the highlight collaboration of Roberto Fonseca’s gifted piano expertise. Omara possesses vocal virtues rarely found in contemporary music; it’s delicate and powerful, gentle and demanding, complex, colorful and multi-layered like the flowers adorning the album’s artwork. The appearance of Jorge Drexler in the fantastic track “Gracias” should expand the record’s attention outside the world music circuit. Omara invites her grand-daughter to sing along with her in “Cachita”, a song with minimal instrumentation but glorious vocalization from both parts. The most nostalgic moment is the opener, “Yo Vi”, talks about the end of an adventure and the still enormous dream to live, a textured sound design makes us feel the breeze from a Caribbean travel full of hope and liberation. Other collaborations include Chico Buarque in the joyful “O que sera”, Pablo Milanes in the soulful “Amame como soy” and my mom’s favorite track “Nuestro gran amor” with Cachito Lopez and Chucho Valdes. Gracias has the caliber to become transcendental in both, the world music circuit and the Latino shelves at stores.

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