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World Music CD Reviews Greater Latin America

Omara Portuondo

By Chris Heim

Duets
Malanga Music

Unlike most of her compatriots in the Buena Vista Social Club, Omara Portuondo had a long and successful career, with a history of fruitful collaborations, before the project took off—all of which offers some insight into why her contributions were so magical. Her singing career actually began back in the ‘50s, in a group called Cuarteto D’Aida, with her sister Haydee and singers Elena Burke and Moraima Secada. The Duets here, culled from Cuba’s Egrem label, come largely from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Several feature her teamed up again with Burke, along with Buena Vista’s Pio Leyva and many others, as well as several backing ensembles that feature players like Rubén Gónzalez, Juan Pablo Torres and Orlando “Cachaito” López. Buena Vista fans may find it a bit tiresome to wade through the light-as-air synth and string arrangements here, but regardless of the setting, partner or era, Portuondo’s voice shines through. For anyone interested in Cuban music or the career of one of its most acclaimed singers, Duets is essential listening.