Omara Portuondo & Chucho Valdes

Omara Portuondo & Chucho Valdes

“For a long time now we wanted to work together again on a recording, but due to our packed
agendas it hasn’t been at all easy to find the right moment”, Omara Portuondo explains. It is no
mean feat to bring together two highly renowned and sought?after musicians like the Cuban
songstress and the pianist Chucho Valdés on the same project. On their own merits, these two
artists have become a shining example of Cuban music and two of the finest ambassadors of
Cuban culture around the world.


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“We wanted to work together again…” and this privilege stems from the fact that they
already worked together in 1997 when Omara suggested that Chucho should join her in the
studio to record the songs that would comprise the album Desafíos, where both artists
explored the intimacy of a duo arrangement by recording a handful of Cuban and Latin
American classics. Now, like 13 years ago, this new joint venture is chiefly the result of a
common desire, the will to continue unravelling the thread of their first joint project – a
circumstance that possibly explains their remake of “Si te contara”, one of the tunes from the
earlier album. However, this new venture was triggered by a studio encounter from two years
ago when Chucho accompanied Omara Portuondo on “Nuestro gran amor” for the Cuban
singer’s most recent solo album Gracias. According to Valdés, this encounter was “a decisive
factor in re?launching our venture”.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since, and Omara and Chucho have engaged in
a wealth of singing and performing, and have experienced many things. They have both
established themselves as icons in Cuba and worldwide. Today, in their own right and without
anybody casting doubt on their decision, they are able to show us their talents in the simplest,
most unclad manner on a context that enables them to lay emphasis on some of the features
that have been characteristic of their music at various stages in their careers: tenderness,
serenity and genuine romanticism without being overly theatrical. Omara and Chucho are once
again in familiar territory and faced with a repertoire similar to the one they performed in their
initial joint undertaking.

They are reliving the music that is part and parcel of their lives, returning to a highly familiar
arrangement – one with which even Valdés is well?acquainted since he has formed duos with
his father, Bebo, and with the double bassist Javier Colina, among others – with decidedly lucid
intentions: to bequeath themselves – and indeed the whole world – a full declaration of love
and admiration, of the love they feel for one another, but also of the love they hold for that
which has brought them together: music.

Alone in the studio with no safety net, Omara and Chucho are transformed into
accomplices and they resume the journey they left behind 13 years ago, one on which they will
also benefit from the accompaniment of a rhythm section formed by double bass and drums
for live performances. Although they have occasionally worked together over the years, now,
shoulder to shoulder, they place their trust in one another without giving it a second thought
and devote themselves to their repertoire in a solemn, respectful fashion in full awareness of
the risk posed by the fact that this is one of the most demanding arrangements.

Even so, they approach the project knowing that this risk is precisely what will allow them to bring

music to their milieu, to transform every one of these well?known songs into a new chapter of a story
written by them in a way that no one else could. Rather than performing as a mere duo on
vocals and piano, Omara and Chucho take advantage of the nigh on sixty minutes of music to
engage in dialogue, to add a little something to what the other has said, to underline feelings,
and so on.

The pianist explains, “Omara sometimes sings and sometimes she speaks. On this
album we sought to ensure that expression would prevail over all other characteristics”.
However, not only is Omara & Chucho imbued in mutual admiration and the admiration
that both artists feel towards everyone who has enriched the repertoire (Chucho’s father – a
commanding figure in the history of Cuban music – and all the friends they’ve lost along the
way, as well as all those who, in one way or another, are remembered in each of the
compositions, the forefathers of filin, composers such as César Portillo de la Luz, etc.); rather, it
is also a tribute to music in the broadest sense of the term, a project with a goal, to
demonstrate an aspect which, despite being an unquestionable truth, often escapes us: the
fact that good music knows no genre.

When talking about the influences that appear in the
various tracks on the album, Omara states that “in music, all gaps are bridged”. This is what the
duo seem to want to remind us when a salute to Gershwin or Beethoven (because the singer
insists that “the legacy of classical music is also part of the pianist Chucho”) paves the way to a
bolero, or when Omara performs the songs with the same sentiment as Billie Holiday would
and Chucho forms part of this unique tribute to the sound of jazz with the occasional blue note
cropping up in a short solo. Omara Portuondo and Chucho Valdés are musicians with an
extensive track record, highly seasoned performers who have experienced everything because,
as these tracks demonstrate, everything counts. Omara and Chucho are two graceful artists
who have prepared this album to share a lifetime they have devoted in all aspects to music or a
lifetime devoted to all aspects of music. These two expressions may appear to be distinct but,
in essence, they both perfectly describe the gift these artists are bequeathing us.

- Text by Ferran Esteve –     – Translation by Robert Taylor -

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