By: Mandalit Del Barco
In 1996, Omara Portuondo was working on an album at Havana's famous recording studio, Egrem. Upstairs, American musician Ry Cooder was laying down tracks for Buena Vista Social Club, a project with veteran Cuban musicians like Compay Segundo. Portuondo was invited to come up and sing a duet with him. They sang "Veinte Anos," a song Portuondo learned as a child.
"Without rehearsal, this was a live recording. One take. It's unbelievable," says Cuban bandleader Juan de Marcos Gonzalez. He had scouted and rediscovered the older musicians for Buena Vista Social Club. But he says Portuondo was still a star on the island, and bringing her into the project was a dream.
"I remember that once, Mr. Ry Cooder told me, 'Omara is the Cuban Sarah Vaughan.' And I said to him, 'No, Sarah Vaughan was the American Omara Portuondo,'" Gonzalez says.