This spectacular presentation from the Tropicana in Havana, Cuba, is a smorgasborded cross between the Folies Bergére, Busby Berkeley, Carmen Miranda, Cirque du Soleil, and a certain city in Nevada well known for its sumptuous stage presentations (and a bit of gambling besides). Fiesta Cubana is a visual and rhythmic feast of latin flavors and flows in eye-popping color, infectious big band sounds, exotic choreography, and billowing explosions of hue and shade. One might even go so far as to call it orgiastic and Romanesque.
The occasion for the event was two-fold: a celebration of a New Year's Eve simultaneous with the 70th anniversary of the establishment itself just last December 2009, so everything about the fete is fresh and timely though steeped as much in tradition as in modern nuance and splendor. Some sections of the presentation root firmly in a myriad of south of the border styles while others lay in American ballroom dancing, at times a They Shoot Horses Don't They revisitation of a classic era for pyrotechnic hoofers. The physical synchronicities are split-second and the steps heartstopping, sonorities rich and propulsive behind it all. Trust me, o ye denizens of lands north of the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere, Las Vegas has nothing on the Tropicana. In fact, from what I can tell, Sin City could take quite a few lessons and profit thereby.
But all that is just the intro, as the festive pageantry and choreographed gymnastics bookend the central element here, Omara Portuondo. She's introduced under her proper title, the diva of The Buena Vista Social Club and a world renowned singer long before that famed Wim Wenders film eventuated. The oceanic atmosphere narrows down from a multi-tiered aviarium to a five-man band that loses nothing in the reduction, as swinging and honed as the sprawling ensemble preceding it. Omara too has lost little in the years, smooth as silk, sweet voiced and satiny, a woman who tackles guajira, bolero, mambo, son, and jazz musics with ease. Right from the opening El Vez, she slips into warm tropical waters zesty with balmy breezes and birds carousing, at times even affecting a cuica falsetto!
O Que Sera is a particularly interesting song in a torrent of lyrics with staggered instrumental mid-section forming a hypnotic stream of shifting patterns and winding narrative. As the performance wends its sinuous way, one begins to hear how El Chicano, Mongo Santamaria, Malo, Basia, and even kindredly inclined African groups like Osibisa (especially during the tribally balletic mid-show interlude—and, boys and girls, there's more than a hint of the erotic here from start to finish) would have been drawn to such modes as Portuondo employs. The entire extravaganza showcases a broad palette, and Omara preceded most all of the later rock-oriented groups, having appeared in the 50s with such notables as Nat King Cole, championing her land's sonic marvels via interpolations into 'norte' modes. In fact, her and her sister's vocal quartet, Cuarteto Las d'Aida, an ensemble preceding even that period, is still one of the most revered musical aggregates in Cuban annals.
Duetting with her guitarist, Portuondo returns from an interlude with the ballad Dos Gardenias, from the aforementioned Social Club, and turns out a truly sensitive rendering, perhaps the high point of her slate that night. Set completed in further materials, the *grande dame* leaves the stage again to the dancers and equilibrists, amazingly supple performers whose art extends well beyond any sense of norms, to close out the entire phantasmagoria and send a club full of happy spectators home with a night to remember.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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