Omara Portuondo

My father was a black baseball player. My mother was the beautiful daughter in a wealthy family. Their parents opposed the marriage, but they believed in the power of love. I grew up in a home where we learned love was more important than anything else, except music.
Throughout my childhood, we were poor. It didn’t matter much to me—singing was free, and I was always surrounded by songs. I knew everyone in our neighborhood by the sound of their voices in the streets. I’d listen from the window.
China was one of my recent stops in Asia. I remember loving the food, but the chopsticks weren’t easy to use.
There were Chinese people in Havana. One of them owned a fantastic Chinese restaurant that all Americans ate at.
I always miss home while I’m on tour, but travel has been in my blood all my life. I grew up loving home but always wanting to see the world.
I stay strong on tour because I’m charged by the Cuban sunshine. While I’m at home, I soak it up until it fills my bones. I’m like a little sunshine battery—I never get cold.
When I travel, I look at the audiences. People who are possessed by music are never strangers to each other.
Music is a message. I’ve never worried about whether or not people can understand words sung in Spanish. Feelings are much more universal than that.
I like music made by people who have little else. The poorest people are usually the richest in music. Simple honest music can be made by anyone, and it’s always better than the expensive stuff.
I like to stay current. When I’m at home, I spend hours watching music videos and broadcast performances. I’m sure that their influences sneak into my own performances, like little mice.
There are so many conditions for music. What’s popular? What rhythms can people dance to? Are the instruments in tune with each other? But the most important thing is a human voice. We all have our own, and they all can be beautiful.
I can’t resist listening to music from other cultures. As a dancer, I’m always entranced by seeing the many steps of the world. I wish I knew the moves for all of them.
I’ve had a long life. But as you can see, I’ve never stopped moving. Life hasn’t felt like different stages to me. No, everything has flowed from the very beginning, which I’d say was me as a young girl, singing as I walked down the street. I always sang loud enough for everyone to hear.