As apart of her “One Last Kiss” tour, Cuban Omara Portuondo stopped in Toronto to give a riveting farewell performance at Koerner Hall as part of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival. The house was packed with faithful fans anticipating Portuondo’s arrival. After a quick performance by her band Portuondo made her way into the hall. Dressed in a salmon coloured gown, the 88-year-old singer was escorted onto the stage where she sat comfortably near her pianist and sang for nearly 90-minutes.
Portuondo was accompanied by her bandmates Andrés Coayo (percussionist), Yandy Martinez (bassist), Ruly Herrera (drummer) and Roberto Fonseca (pianist)— with whom she sweetly bantered throughout the night. She sang an array of songs that had the crowd either singing along with her, or doing a quick salsa beside their seats.
For decades now this is how Portuondo has been making her way into the hearts of fans around the world. From singing alongside her sister Haydée in the all-female quartet, Cuarteto d’Aida, to breaking out as the only female member of the Grammy-winning ensemble, Buena Vista Social Club, Portuondo has been steady in gaining worldwide recognition. This fan familiarity with her career definitely showed during her Toronto Jazz Festival set as the audience couldn’t help but sing her lyrics back to her during her performance. However, the singer didn’t mind— she cheerfully encouraged the crowd to sing and clap along to her songs.
With her vigorous and enchanting voice, the singer held notes longer than most artists half her age, showing that nothing had changed since she first started her career. As she left the stage to take a 10-minute break, Portuondo did a mini dance on her way off that roused the crowd to new heights of appreciation. To the delight of the audience, Portunondo’s amazing band continued with a smooth yet striking performance that kept the crowd’’s spirits up until she came back.
The night was merely a reminder of why Portuondo has been able to maintain such a long career— 70 years to be exact. In her final farewell, Portuondo sang songs like Guantanamera, ¿Dónde Estabas Tú? and Lágrimas Negras (just to mention a few). She was graceful in every song sung and poised in every move made. She definitely made sure the last kiss would be one we’d never forget.