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Oye cómo va Illustration: Nelson Ponce

My flag is held by Omara Portuondo

When in 1990 the country was breaking into pieces, Violet Chavez and half of Cuba danced with El General. "Tu pum pum, mami, no me va a matar". Eating was then a complex matter and dancing healed. Today too.

In 1996, Omara Portuondo went to Egrem Studios to record. She was not a forgotten artist, but few in the world knew of her talent. Two men went to see her, she went up a few floors and met old acquaintances; Compay Segundo and she sang Veinte añosThey recorded for Word Circuit, and it changed their lives.

Violet has eyes as lively as anyone and laughs at almost everything. As she lived her childhood on the southern coast of Santiago de Cuba, she was bombarded by Colombian radio stations and danced as much to the vallenatos of the day as to Cuban music. "I prefer the song full of verses, but I can't stop dancing. I can't," he often says.

Omara Portuondo was born in 1930. They call her "la novia del filin" or "La Diva del Buena Vista Social Club". She has thirty albums, three Grammy Awards, an unmistakable voice, ductile, powerful, has lived almost a century and laughs at almost everything.

Violet Chavez had dropped out of English school and was working in a hotel when one December afternoon she was offered a job in Toronto. She grabbed her gear and headed out into the cold. It was temporary, but life settled differently. He had a love and Sofia was born. Cuba was still in her chest. Violet danced, cried sometimes for so much land far away, cried because her old lady was left by the sea, and did not understand why the boys were leaving, why the bread was less.

Omara Portuondo stopped being the local diva to place herself in the world: interviews, photos, concerts, superstars, trips (Eliades describes her tireless, today in Tokyo, hours later in Mexico City). Omara Portuondo sings and her voice is placed in her chest to half the world. "What do you care that I love you?" she asks, and people understand in the filin's girlfriend the sadness of a love that is leaving us.

Violet Chavez received a call from her friend, a Canadian with light blue eyes. She was calling because she wanted them to go to the Buena Vista Social Club concert. "No shit," Violet said. The blonde didn't know that while the world was dancing with Chan ChanIn Cuba, people were "on top of the ball, on top of the ball, on top of the ball". That when The Cartwright had returned to being a hitThe common people sang: "you are a witch, a witch without feelings", and that going to dance had to be with NG, Adalberto, Paulo FG. "And if Pablo Milanés comes, call me babybut I'm not going to dance with the old people".

Omara Portuondo doesn't drink alcohol, she has said. While her colleagues woke up at parties, she tried to sleep early and studied. She facilitated the meeting between Silvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés. She has sung with the Buena Vista as well as with C. Tangana and Julio Iglesias.

Violet Chavez said yes to her friend. She put on her Levi's, painted her full lips and left in her Peugeot for the theater. What's to come is told by her, almost strictly.

"It was the first time I felt the island as something huge in my chest. My friend carried a Cuban flag. I was hesitant, but something grew as the songs came; in a moment of emotion I asked her for the flag and waved it high, strong, strong. Omara saw me and extended her hand looking me in the eyes, asking for the flag. I stretched my body as far as I could towards the stage, gave her my flag and she raised it; she waved it strong, strong, strong. I can't tell you what I felt.

"There were Cubans at the concert who stood up and applauded, shouted. Cuba, Cuba, Cuba. I imagine, they were shaken as I was. I had never experienced anything like that, only in Canada could I feel how immense my country is, to value it as it is. Omara was Cuba that came looking for me, my extraordinary island.

Omara Portuondo is still on tour, Violet Chavez sometimes calls me and sends me clips of the boleros she listens to on her way to work. I am fascinated to hear my country in so many places, this island beautifully multiplied and in spite of the dispersion, so united by boleros that give gardenias or insinuate that, in spite of all the sorrows, what is left to live should be like Violet and Omara: smiling, living the happy moment.

Rogelio Ramos Domínguez Writer of verses and songs. Full-time journalist and especially father of Claudia Ramos. More posts

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