Omara Portuondo and Ibrahim Ferrer

The Buena Vista Social Club is an extraordinary concert, recording and film phenomenon. A group of legendary Cuban musicians and singers, each one a respected and important personality in the development of Cuban music in the 50s and 60s, was brought together for a recording project in 1997 by producer and guitarist Ry Cooder. A documentary film by the same name was made by Wim Wenders two years later. The Grammy award-winning recording and Wenders' film soon helped to make the name Buena Vista Social Club for many listeners throughout the world a synonym for Cuban music.

Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo Omara Portuondo and Ibrahim Ferrer -- the two most prominent presently active stars of Buena Vista project -- performed in July 2005 in Berlin accompanied by the Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg, together with Omara Portuondo's band. This open-air concert was presented by the Classic Open Air am Gendarmenmarkt festival.

The program featured classic Cuban compositions specially arranged by Sanchez Ferrer, conductor at the National Opera in Havana, and a long-time colleague and friend of Omara's since their work together at the Havana Tropicana Club in the 1950s.

Omara had begun working - first as a dance soloist - in shows at the Tropicana in 1945. Parallel to this, she and her sister Haydee sang with local bands, and began to develop a new style which combined elements of bossa nova and American jazz, which quickly became known throughout Cuba as "feeling" or - in the Spanish version -- filin. (On their radio debut Omara was announced as "the fiancÚ of filin.") Beginning in 1952 the Portuondo sisters worked with the vocal quartet Las D'Aida, a group which became one of the most popular and important in Cuban music history. They recorded for RCA and appeared with Nat King Cole. Omara sang with the quartet until the mid-60s, when she began her solo career.

Ibrahim Ferrer Omara built a reputation as one of the most versatile song-stylists and performers in the Spanish-speaking music world. The Buena Vista Social Club project in 1997 helped her then to become truly internationally recognized and popular.

Omara's two solo cds since then have been greeted enthusiastically by listeners and the critical press. These recordings are wonderfully authentic in style, and at the same time very modern and contemporary in their immediacy and directness.

One of the most memorable scenes in Wim Wenders' film is the duet "Silencio" performed by Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara. Ibrahim was the special guest at this Berlin concert and "Silencio" was one of their final duet encores for the evening. Before the intermission, Omara and Ibrahim presented the classic song from Casablanca "As Time Goes By" in an original english and spanish language version. (picture above) In addition to duets with Omara, Ibrahim sang the songs "El Boquinene", "Dos Gardenias" and "Candela".

Sanchez Ferrer

The arrangements for the entire concert were conceived by Sanchez Ferrer. Maestro Ferrer has been one of Cuba's most active conductors since the 1950s. In the early 1960s, he worked for several years with the Radio Symphony Orchestra in Leipzig, where he recorded many reference recordings of 20th century Latin American music.

In preparing this concert program, Sanchez and Lawton met several times in Havana to discuss instrumentation and orchestrations. They also listened together to many archive recordings of Cuban symphonic works. Sanchez possesses an unusual ability to synthesize instrumental techniques by Ravel and Debussy with the Cuban musical heritage, both popular and serious. His arrangements often use modern harmonies in counterpoint with traditional Cuban rhythmic patterns.

The concert program which which Sanchez arranged for this concert:

Buena Vista Social Club, Canta Siboney, Hermosa Habana, La Sitiera, Tiene sabor, Flor de Amor, He Venido a Cecirte, As Time Goes By, No Me Llores Mas -- (Intermission) -- Mambo Mania, Tabu, Amore de mis Amores, Si Llego a Besarte, Drume Negrita, Viente Anos, Dos Gardenias, Mueve la cintura mulato and Silencio.

Following the dress rehearsal on the afternoon of the concert, Ibrahim and Omara took a moment a to relax: