A response to the documentary directed by Hugo Pérez
Omara is timeless. She has created a way for music that’s based on tradition, innovation, and her genius.
The influence of Omara carries an eternal thriving, and the film Omara shows just how timeless Omara Portuondo is. From Cuba, we can see how Omara’s impact on Cuba was reciprocated through her strong sense of nationalism.
“Music is the soul of the nation,” she says. Countless times throughout the film, we see as Omara credits Cuba for her success, like when she accepts her Grammy “in the name of Cuba,” or when she says “I am not the queen of anything. I am Cubana.” Her love for the country is mutual as she’s nothing short of a legend. Everyone in the country knows who “the voice of Cuba” is.
When asked about her success, Omara explains “It all happened little by little.” Omara’s beginnings were anything but easy. She was born in 1930 in Central Havana, Cuba, to her father Bartolo, a renowned black baseball player and her Spanish mother Esperanza, whose family disowned her, due to her interracial marriage. The hardships that came with this marriage were passed on to Omara.
Talking about the discrimination she faced, her family friend said “Omara went through all of that. She lived it in the flesh. She suffered it.”
Despite this, Omara however, talks fondly of her childhood, reminiscent of the moments when she and her father sang together. Throughout the movie Omara is described as having everlasting strength.
Omara started her career as a dancer for the Buena Vista Social Club, quickly rising to fame. Omara won a Grammy, sold out Carnegie Hall, and attracted fans from around the world, with15,000 fans at a concert in South Korea. When her sister Haydee moved to the US due to the political turmoil of the Cuban Revolution, the two rarely spoke for years. Around this time, Omara divorced her husband and raised her son Ariel as a single mother, tackling the responsibilities of music and maternity.
Omara has not only been able to endure this pain, but has transcended it.
She has put these hardships into her music. Described as “the bride of feeling”, we can see how Omara carries her strength in her music. Her songs are memories of what she’s lived through. They are extraordinary because she’s experienced so much, and she embeds her emotion into her music. It is impossible not to see it when watching her perform, grabbing a crowd’s attention within seconds. I think one of the reasons fans adore her so much is because it is easy to feel with Omara when she puts everything on stage. “I’m gonna go out and be completely naked.” Her music has not only been healing for herself, but for others.
Omara has created a community. “Here in Cuba musicians are one big family. We all depend on each other and call each other for different gigs.” Omara is a regular at many of Cuba’s local music shows and gatherings. The film encapsulates the familial sense that these musicians have with one another, as they sing hand in hand. In one scene, she enthralls herself into a sort of comical singing insult competition with a friend. Like many of us know, insults as a way of saying “I love you” are only appropriate with brothers and sisters, just what these musicians are to one another. This community that her music creates brings unity to the people that listen to it.
From the beginning, we see how Omara doesn’t like people calling her old, as she is unhappy when she learns that her age can be found online. In one interview, someone tells Omara “Congratulations on the success you had in your life.” “A lot more is coming. I am not done.” Her disregard for age attests to Omara’s undying talent.
I am saddened that Omara is not as well-known as she deserves to be in the US. This documentary is the first time I heard her name, and I haven’t been able to stop listening to her since. Her voice is unequaled. “She is on some level of the apex of her interpretive powers.”
There is no such thing as “In Omara’s time”, because Omara’s influence will outlive her. Omara’s time is timeless.
“Art can get ripe, but true art doesn’t age.”