Review of Cuban musician Omar Puente in concert – A moment of ajiaco with cubania

The new album is really an autobiography of the artist and focuses on some of the most significant themes of his rich and fascinating life. Firstly, Omar is a true citizen of the world and one level of the experience of his new album and concert tour (which began in Brazil before wending its way to Britain and is off to many exciting new horizons in 2017) is a journey to the many places around the globe that have influenced this multi-faceted artist, who has performed on every continent, following on from his 2009 debut album "From There to Here". He has described himself in interviews as an African soul born in Cuba, whose heart lies in Yorkshire and various sets from his new album evoke places as diverse as a "morning in Morocco" and South Africa "Mandela", and the music of Brazil "Samba para Dos" and Jamaica "Debbie's One Drop".

Omar is a multi-faceted musician, well versed not only in jazz but also in classical violin (at one stage, he was the First Violin of the prestigious Cuban National Symphony Orchestra). In this sense, Omar's heritage, his intellectual curiosity and his travels embody the metaphor, established by ethnologist Fernando Ortiz, of Cuba as a melting pot, or "ajiaco", the hearty traditional soup made from a wide ranging mix of beef, pork, chicken, vegetables and the roots known as tubers which are so well-loved by Cubans, such as boniato (sweet potato), yucca and malanga.

But more than this, Omar's concert offered a moment of "cubania". How do we define this term, the essence of the Cuban people? Well, it is really a combination of the Cuban melting pot (ajiaco) with a very warm heart. Omar's heart, expressed in his smile and his gentle manner, is huge, like the heart of any true Cuban. He expresses the warmth of his sentiments through his music and this is when the performance moves beyond the work of an accomplished virtuoso artist, which Omar most definitely is, to a true expression of the artist's soul, which allows everyone in the theatre to soar with him. Omar's new album can be defined quite simply as "ajiaco con cubania".

The album and all his performances are dedicated to a great lady, Omar's beloved wife Debbie. Omar explains the title of his new album, which was naturally inspired by Debbie. She encouraged him to always keep on going, no matter what, and now that she is gone, he is determined to honour her memory by putting his "Best Foot Forward". Their romance was itself a complex international journey but also an intense, strong bond lasting two decades, the beauty of which continues to be expressed in Omar's deeply passionate musical expression. The new album is a journey around the world with a single destination: love. If you have the opportunity, don't miss any chance to see Omar and his sextet in action. They will be rocking the house at the legendary Ronnie Scott's very soon and other premiere venues in London and around the UK. Omar sings, dances and dazzles and he is backed by some of the country's top Afro-Cuban masters. As winter sets in, these rhythms will set you ablaze….AGUAAAAA!!!

Jordan Lancaster for Cuba50

Catch Omar Puente in London on Thursday 24 November – see details here

Buy the album Omar Puente: Best Foot Forward here

Read a review of the album Best Foot Forward here