A touch of Buena Vista Social Club

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A touch of Buena Vista Social Club


Omara Portuondo

Last year at the Seoul Arts Center in southern Seoul, Cuban singer Omara Portuondo touched the heartstrings of Korean audiences.

The 78-year-old vocalist sang folk song “Arirang” while clad in an elegant hanbok, or traditional Korean dress. She also managed to find time to sing some of her famous Latin-inspired songs.

For those who missed out on her performance, don’t worry - she’s coming back to town again next week. Titled, “Gracias (Thank You)” Portuondo is holding a concert at the Seoul Arts Center on Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. It is part of a world tour to celebrate her 60th year in music.

Portuondo is known as the only living vocalist of the Buena Vista Social Club, an Afro-Cuban jazz group created in 1997. The music’s genre is a mixture of African and Latin.

The Buena Vista Social Club was comprised of elder Cuban musicians including Compay Segundo (guitar), Ruben Gonzalez (piano) and Ibrahim Ferrer (vocal). The club, led by bandleader Juan de Gonzalez, became known worldwide when German film director Wim Wenders made a documentary of the same name.

The documentary traced the daily lives of the passionate Cuban musicians, who resurrected the early 20th-century Cuban musical genres by performing at neighborhood clubs, bars and cabarets.

At the upcoming concert, Portuondo will perform songs from her latest album, “Gracias,” which is a collaboration with world-class musicians including the Indian percussionist and composer Trilok Gurtu, Israeli jazz trumpet player Avishai Cohen, Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca and Cuban guitarist Jorge Chicoy. Her songs are a mixture of ballads, boleros and jazz.

Along with Portuondo, the concert’s line-up features Swami Junior (guitar), Harold Nussa (piano), Felipe Cabrera (double bass), Andres Coayo (percussion) and Rodney Barreto (percussion).

“Since Portuondo is getting on in years, this may be her last concert in Korea,” said Kim Ji-ye from Private Curve, the entertainment company organizing the concert.

“According to Portuondo, there is nothing missing in Cuban music,” Kim said. “It is rhythmic, has beautiful lyrics and above all, full of life.”

The Seoul Arts Center is located in southern Seoul. To get there, take Nambu Bus Terminal Station, line No. 3, exit 5. Tickets range from 55,000 won to 165,000 won. For more information, call (02) 563-0595.

By Lee Eun-joo Staff Reporter [angie@joongang.co.kr]
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