Omara Portuondo, the lovely Cuban singer and dancer who will turn 80 on October 29, has been granted a travel visa to perform two shows in the United States. A member of the Buena Vista Social Club who celebrated her 60th year as an entertainer with last year’s release of Gracias (World Village/Montuno), Portuondo will perform at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre on October 20 as part of the 2009 San Francisco Jazz Festival. Three days later, she’ll perform on the UCLA campus.
Portuondo, whom the Los Angeles Times has called “the queen of Caribbean vocalists,” is one of the very few Cuban musicians in the past six years to have gained permission to perform in the United States.
“José Martí, our great Cuban poet, once said that ‘music is the soul of the people,’” Portuondo said in a press release. “Music is at the heart of every culture, something to be shared among all people, regardless of borders and politics. It has always been a universal language for people who might not otherwise understand each other. Perhaps, through these performances, I could be a goodwill ambassador between these two countries.”
The permission to perform in the States comes just a few days after Gracias received a Latin Grammy nomination in the category of Best Contemporary Tropical Album. The album was recorded in Havana with a first-class quintet that includes pianist Roberta Fonseca, guitarist and musical director Swami Jr., bassist Avishai Cohen and percussionists Andre Coayo and Trilok Gurtu. The Latin Grammy Awards ceremony will be held at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on November 5.