- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2001

The closest anyone in Washington can get to a tropical environment without flying to the Caribbean these days is going to a Cuban jazz concert.

The Buena Vista Social Club with its 13 members and singing stars Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo and pianist Ruben Gonzalez managed to make audience members at DAR Constitution Hall Friday night feel as though they were a minute away from getting a daiquiri or rum and Coke, could hear crashing ocean waves and enjoy hot, sunny days during a 2 and 1/2-hour sold-out show.

This is the third time in 18 months that the group has come to Washington, and its audience seems to have grown and extended beyond young Hispanics and music aficionados to suburban families, middle-aged Cuban-American professionals and even elderly DAR patrons.

Mr. Gonzalez, the 83-year-old pianist who recently released his own album, "Chanchullo," was the first star of the band to perform in the spotlight. After appearing onstage with a band member who held his hand until they reached the piano, Mr. Gonzalez played for about an hour. He easily and skillfully performed his album's title song, the playful tune "Chanchullo," and the slow but escalating "Choco's Guajira," in which the piano contrasts with the glittering sound of the trumpet.

Miss Portuondo, who was nominated for a Grammy this year, followed in the spotlight after Mr. Gonzalez walked off stage, having shaken myriad hands stretched out to him from those in front-row seats. Miss Portuondo, a lively performer, was a diva dressed in white who danced the mambo by herself and urged the audience to clap along to her tunes. She sang "The Man I Love" in Spanish and the passionate, languid "Veinte Anos" in which the singer wishes her lover would want her just as he did 20 years ago.

Somewhere in the middle of show, things got heated as Miss Portuondo urged the audience to sing along with "Quizas, Quizas, Quizas." Hill staffers stood next to Spanish speakers, and both groups mouthed the words, following the singer's lead.

By the time Mr. Ferrer, 73, was about to walk onstage, even a revived Elvis Presley could not have gotten the crowd more excited. Cheering and whistling filled the concert hall as he appeared in a dove-gray suit and a little hat.

As Mr. Ferrer performed songs from his 1999 self-titled album such as "Marieta" and "Mami Me Gusta," a half-dozen women danced by the exit doors, mindless of security guards who had earlier attempted to keep them seated.

To lead to the encore, Mr. Ferrer performed the dance numbers "El Cuarto de Tula" (about a woman whose room burns down because she forgets to blow out a candle) and "Que Bueno Baila Usted" (in which a Caucasian is praised for his good dancing).

Mr. Gonzalez and Mr. Ferrer returned onstage, and the pianist broke into the old Cuban love song, "Dos Gardenias," the words to which Mr. Ferrer's strong voice carried through the hall.


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