As a result of this renewed popularity, Omara Portuondo experienced one of her most fertile and successful periods. After a solo world tour in 2002, in the autumn of the same year, she performed at the Japan Jazz Festival, accompanied by Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock, John Patitucci, Wayne Shorter and Danilo Pérez. In 2003, she returned to European soil to take part in the legendary Glastonbury Festival before going on to perform in Canada and the USA in autumn, leading a band which included such heavyweights as Papi Oviedo on the Tres, Rolando Baro on piano and Fabián García on the double-bass.
That same year, Omara went back to the studio to record her second solo album for World Circuit. The producers were Nick Gold and Alê Siquiera, a respected Brazilian producer well-known for his work with Carlinhos Brown, Caetano Veloso and Tribalistas, winners of a Latin GrammyTM . The technical team was complemented by two renowned professionals, engineer Jerry Boys and Cuban musician and arranger Demetrio Muñiz.
Flor de Amor (World Circuit) signals a change in direction in Omara Portuondo’s career: it is an album marked by a more subtle sound and a richness of texture. Omara brought in a mixture of Cuban and Brazilian musicians for this album, and it is this factor which influences the particular style of the music. Never one to sleep on laurels, Omara returned to Europe in 2004 to promote this album, which she performed at such illustrious venues as the North Sea Jazz Festival, Marble Hill House in London, Olympia in Paris and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. That same summer, Omara gave the first concert at Berlin’s legendary Gendarmenmarkt, within the series of concerts “Open-air Classics”. Before an audience of 7,000 people and accompanied by 68 musicians – among whom were members of the Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg Symphonic Orchestra, conducted by Scott Lawton – and escorted by such a special guest and friend as Ibrahim Ferrer, it was an unforgettable night which signalled the start of a new, ambitious world tour, the Projecto Especial Sinfónico, which in 2006 led to performances in the most important classical music festivals and theatres.
Before 2004 had come to a close, Omara received two great surprises: in Montreaux, the International Red Cross appointed her International Ambassador, making her the first Cuban artist to achieve such a distinction; and Flor de amor was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Traditional Tropical Record category. This was not, however, the only accolade that the record was to receive. In the 16th edition of theBillboard Latin Music Awards, in 2005, Flor de amor obtained the Tropical Record of the Year award in the female category.
In 2006, Omara continued along the same lines that have characterized her work in recent years. Indeed, her deep-rooted social conscience led her to establish the Fundación de Amigos de Omara in Cancun to provide support to women from all over the world who are the victims of the social and economic circumstances that affect developing countries. Moreover, she kept up her intense musical activity with concerts in Latin America, Asia and Europe, among these one of very special significance for her: the performance in Barcelona which brought her together with Mayte Martín and Martirio in the show “Entre Amigas” and in which she paid tribute to her idol, Ibrahim Ferrer, whom she also honored with the songs “Casablanca” and “Killing Me Softly”, songs which she and Ferrer sang together on Rhythms del Mundo (Universal) and in which several Cuban artists joined rock groups to play numbers by Radiohead, U2 or Sting, to name a few.
And, while in 2006 she was able to work with two figures of the Spanish music scene, 2007 was the year in which she joined forces with one of the legends of Brazilian music, the singer Maria Bethânia. The two of them worked on recordings in Rio de Janeiro, with both Cuban and Brazilian musicians such as pianist Roberto Fonseca and the Brazilians Carlos Baia and Jorge Hélder, and under the close attention of producers Swami Jr (Omara’s current musical director) and Jaime Alem (Bethânia’s current music director).
Finally, we come to 2008, a year which Omara started with a tour alongside Bethânia and continued with Gracias (Montuno Producciones), the record marked her sixtieth year in the music business. Recorded in Havana and produced by the Brazilians Alê Siquiera (who also produced her last record) and Swami Jr, what better way to celebrate such an auspicious occasion than to recruit a first-class quintet? Indeed, Omara’s career is one full of exceptional talent and the careers of the musicians that are to take part in this celebration are no less impressive: the three musicians that Omara has worked with in the past – pianist Roberto Fonseca, guitarist and musical director Swami Jr and percussionist Andrés Coayo – and the two musicians who will be debuting alongside “the girlfriend of feeling”, the Israeli double bassist Avishai Cohen and the Hindu percussionist Trilok Gurtu.
With Gracias, Omara’s aim is to relive the numbers that she has found most moving and to work with the songwriters she most admires, such as Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés and Jorge Drexler, the latter being the composer of the record’s title song, specially dedicated to Omara. These are not, however, the only star guests at this event. If the list were not already impressive enough, other great names will also be present: Chucho Valdés, who performs a number composed by Omara’s son; the brilliant African musician, Richard Bona; and the Brazilian maestro, Chico Buarque. In 2009, Omara performed Gracias on stage in a series of concerts in which she reviewed her singing career, accompanied by six musicians.
This performance makes Omara Portuondo’s La Jolla Music Society debut