Review: Omara Portuondo & Diego el Cigala – 85 Tour @ Barbican Centre (London, 21st July 2016)

­The Omara Portuondo & Diego El Cigala concert at the Barbican Hall to celebrate Portuondo’s 85th birthday and 70-year musical career prompted such enthusiasm, excitement and feelings that both audience and critics have to recognise an incomparable and historical event – along with the rests of the concerts of the European 85 Tour. The voices of Portuondo and El Cigala, as well as the mastery of the musicians that accompanied them, created a quintessential experience with a musical interpretation that described the indescribable and express the inexpressible.

The show was opened by the founder of the blues-flamenco band Son de la Frontera: Raúl Rodríguez. The duet composed by this player of the flamenco-Cuban tres and the prestigious accompanist Mario Mas on the guitar enchanted the audience with their energetic and seductive Spanish flamenco style. The played pieces were ‘El Negro Curro,’ an Afro-Andalusian form of music; ‘Llévame a la Mar’, an Indian fandango; ‘Con la Guitarra en Blanco’, a tribute to life; and ‘Si Supiera’ on the tradition of bulerías with a rock-tinged voice.

After a 20-minute interval, Jaime Calabuch ‘Jumitus’ prepared the environment with his Latin-style piano playing. Immediately, Diego El Cigala’s entrance was acclaimed with a standing ovation and excited applause. The programme was carefully choreographed with  the alternating soloist voices of El Cigala and Portuondo, duos and instrumentals. The outcome was a dynamic and contrasting concert that fed people’s hearts with hypnotic emotions.

Diego decided to open with ‘Te quiero’ and ‘Amar y Vivir’, followed by a duet with Omara singing ‘Si Te Contara’. The interplay between the Omara’s sublime and passionate voice and El Cigala’s flamenco voice instantly captivated the Barbican audience. ‘Lo Que Me Queda por Vivir’ and ‘Y Tal Vez’ were sung by the Diva of son among exalted feelings. The high point of the first half came with ‘Lágrimas Negras’, both as a reminder of the collaboration between El Cigala and Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés and the opportunity to hear the versatility and spontaneity of Omara and Diego’s voices.

The contrast came with instrumental music, wherein Andrés Coayo (percussion), Rodney Barreto (drums), and Gastón Joya (acoustic bass) took the occasion to showcase their improvisational skills. A kind of competition was held by Jumitus and Omara’s pianist from the beginning. For lovers of improvisation, it was a master class.

Songs in the second half such as ‘Silencio,’ ‘Siboney,’ ‘Duele Mucho,’ ‘La Última Noche,’ ‘Compromiso,’ ‘La Bien Paga,’ and ‘Dos Gardenias’ took the audience to ecstasy in a gig which was a celebration from the very start. Words in this case can’t do justice to a form of music and to several talented musicians who must be listened to live.

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