At 87 years young, the legendary Cuban Diva of the Buena Vista Social Club, Omara Portuondo, brought gasps of delight, then rapturous applause, just by walking out on the stage in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday night. She graciously acknowledged the love in the room then continued with her rendition of beloved classic “Veinte Años,” backed by just a pianist.
She was part of a spectacular concert that was the kick-off celebration for an unprecedented display of Cuban multi-disciplinary arts and culture currently underway at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts called Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World.
The first of its kind in the U.S., more than 400 Cuban and Cuban-American artists will be participating in an extraordinary showcase of music, dance, fashion, theatre, film, visual arts and more, from May 8 – 20.
Kennedy Center staff began coordinating the event three years ago during President Obama’s historic overtures to the Cuban government and people. But with the Trump administration’s reversal of Obama’s Cuba policy, they faced travel restrictions and a sharply reduced staff at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. With 200 visas yet to process, they were determined not to let politics get in the way, and routed the artists through Mexico.
Opening night was a celebration in which art trumped politics and was dotted with references to the longstanding musical relationship between the U.S. and Cuba.