Omara Portuondo -- Gracias

Omara Portuondo begins this album away from Cuba, saluting a genuine crooner avant la lettre, the Frenchman Henri Salvador, with “Yo vi”. Swami Jr’s subtle string arrangements bestow this delicate version with a metaphorical hint of what the singer has witnessed over the years, as indeed the title points out, and of the declaration stating that this album forms merely another rung in the ladder of her career. “O qué será” is clearly a song Omara has long wished to record. For this song the Cuban singer has joined forces with another genuine Brazilian music maestro, Chico Buarque, for a version that conveys an interplay between the languages of both singers, and indeed of all the musical traditions of everyone contributing.

For this album Omara also resurrects a song she recorded in 1974: “Vuela pena” by Amaury Pérez. As heart-warming as it was when she performed it for the first time, the lyrics seem to take on a new form here: now it’s time to dispel the pain of passing time and the loss of certain dear friends along the way, like Ibrahim Ferrer. “Cuento para un niño”, by Rojas Torrente, which is strategically placed at the midway point on the album, is unquestionably one of its climaxes. After a career spanning so many years, Omara is still moved by a story so close to her heart that she is unable to hold back the tears for some final verses in an emotion that is calm, though implied throughout the tune.

The title track from the album, “Gracias”, which was composed especially with Omara in mind, begins with a clear taste of Brazil, one of the Cuban singer’s favourite music styles and a manifest influence in Uruguayan singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler’s productions. Omara is an admirer of the singer-songwriter’s work and has long wanted to sing one of his tunes. Omara’s ability to transform an apparent farewell message into a call of hope re- emerges in “Lo que me queda por vivir”. However, despite the song’s title – the life I have left – one only needs to listen to the first line of the song: “the life I have left will be spent smiling”, to realise that there is no place for sadness in this tune.

Indeed, the album kicked off with a French feel of chansonnier, and for the ending the album goes in search of a part of the Caribbean island’s musical roots. “Drume negrita” takes a salute to African music in the company of the Cameroonian Richard Bona, whose vocal skills and virtuoso talent once again demonstrate on this album that good music knows no limit in terms of ages, but rather is marked by shared sensitivities.