Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club

State Theatre, March 13

Omara res
Omara Portuondo. Photo: Alejandro Gonzalez.

“Are you tired?” Omara Portuondo asked the audience in mock surprise at the start of Quizas, Quizas. Everyone had dared to resume their seats after No Me Llores Mas, but an 84-year-old gently implying a want of stamina instantly had the desired effect, the jibe carrying more weight because she herself had just been dancing with the tres player Papi Oviedo, whose solos were as zany as his checked suit. Besides, this was Omara Portuondo, whose life force burns more brightly than that of a thousand others combined.

With her arms waving their not-to-be-denied exhortations she lit up the stage when she first arrived at the concert’s half way mark for Lagrimas Negras, oozing class and flair from every pore, infusing every line with her magical phrasing and living every word she sang. For the achingly sad Viente Anos she was just accompanied by Rolando Luna, who proved yet another in Cuba’s long list of brilliant pianists, the song capped by a contemplative solo from the burnished tone of the band’s trombonist and musical director, Jesus “Aguaje” Ramos.

Without Portuondo, however, this would have been merely a very good rather than an unforgettable concert. Although the presence of laud player Barbarito Torres and trumpeter Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal may have just about justified the use of the Buena Vista brand-name, where everyone in the original line-up had imbued the music with character, now competence was more in evidence – potentially a sad way to say goodbye on this “Adios Tour”.

But Portuondo more than compensated for the rather dry singing of Carlos Calunga (who nonetheless had a striking voice) and Idania Valdes. In an inspired use of a big screen several songs were accompanied by photographic tributes to such past, legendary members as Ruben Gonzalez, Ibrahim Ferrer and Compay Segundo. The latter’s tribute was Chan Chan, and here, even without Omara, the 13-piece band sounded worthy of using the precious Buena Vista name. Adios.