Nancy Ann Lee
Jazz & Blues Report
, September 2010
Colorful and exciting, this DVD was recorded on in December 2009 for the 70th birthday celebration of Havana’s popular nightclub, Tropicana. Featuring elaborately costumed dancers, a brassy big band, various singers, and special guest vocalist Omara Portuondo and her five-man band, the show is bold, daring and briskly-paced.
The disc opens with scenes of Havana, interspersed with colorful, flashy dancing by the Tropicana Ballet to pulsating tempos from the band. After performances by the dancers and house singers, Omara Portuondo takes the stage with her combo (Harold Lopez Nussa, piano; Jorge Luis Valdés Chicoy, guitar; Omar Gonzalez, double bass; Andres Coayo Batista, percussion; Rodney Yllarza Barreto, drums). Interspersed with two Tropicana show segments, Portuondo sings seven traditional numbers, ranging from the guajira, bolero, mambo and son, melded to elements of jazz. She closes her performance with the audience lightly clapping and softly singing along to her lovely rendering of the classic “Guantanamera.”
Camera work from eight videographers is excellent, ranging from brilliantly lit, full stage shots to close-ups that capture the rapture and excitement of Tropical Ballet dancers, musicians and singers. This is a dramatic production with dancers moving all over the stage and, at times, into the audience.
Bonus features include another singing performance, “Gracias,” which segues into a very informative sub-titled interview with Portuondo (you can select the language: German, French, English). She speaks of her history on stage and film, and film clips, still shots and music accompany her interview. Another bonus performance, “Equilibrists,” features two young male gymnasts. Trailers for four other song and dance DVDs are also included.
Born Omara Portuondo Pelaez in Havana, October 29, 1930, Portuondo has accrued more than 50 years as a singer and dancer since she joined the dance group of Cabaret Tropicana in 1950, following her older sister, Haydee. She participated in other dance groups and sang with various orchestras during the 1950s, with and without her sister. Portuondo recorded a solo album in 1959 that featured both jazz and Cuban music. She embarked on a solo career in 1967. In the 1970s and 1980s, she performed at home and abroad and was featured in films and on television. She gained widespread fame performing with the Buena Vista Social Club. She lives and continues to perform in Havana.
Directed by Henning Kasten and produced by Paul Smaczny, the thrilling Tropicana performances offer superb viewing and listening for fans of the music.