Arriving at the Vortex at around 20:00 the place was quite empty. £10 I was told is a reasonable price to pay to see one such as Omar Puente and this I can verify after having witnessed the performance myself.
By 20:30 the place was just filling up and appreciatively anticipating the night’s music, a few tables had just purchased their evening’s wine and the conversations were beginning. A few appearances by Omar put those who had gathered at ease as he seemed to fill the room with light and a comfortable charm. There was no question that he was going to be in charge that night. And he was. At around 21:00 the Vortex was filled with people, conversations flirted from one side of the room to the other, it was a dance of male and female voices, competing and combating for dominance, superiority and authority. Two female voices would sing in unison as a loud male jeer from across the room silenced them. Laughter sliding over mocking tones, bishop takes rook, pawn to D5 kinda thing if you listen. All the while hardly audible was the sounds of a sax from the speaker, the room was warming up nicely.
The trio took to the stage, a guitar and a bass player on either side of, of course, Omar himself on violin. To hear that man’s voice, his charm and humour assured us that despite having most probably been disappointed in the past by gigs in London, this would not be one of those nights. He said something along the lines of, ‘sing if you want to, dance if you want to but defiantly have a good time’. It seemed to me, that he had resigned himself to the freedoms of the audience. It was a night such that, if we so chose to, we could have pushed the tables to one side and began to dance, and cheer as loudly as possible. At the same time the performances were delivered with an astute class and quality such that they could have been framed in a gallery for peaceful observers to stand and watch feeling perfectly comfortable with not dancing or singing.
There were no obligations; I felt here, only freedom. After three songs the audience very warm to the music was openly contributing with hand claps and the occasional cry of elation in this direction and that. Speaking to one of his students I was told that one of the qualities of having Omar as your teacher is that he helps you to find your own voice and discover yourself. I see these gigs as more of an opportunity to access some different frequencies and to absorb rhythms that will change your sense of timing. Certainly life changing, I feel as though you pay ten pounds to be pushed in the way of some realities and out of the way of some others. There were no heavy drums, no bleeding guitars; it was all the way an acoustic all the way authentic taste of adapted Cuban music to fit into an urban setting for an evening with a mixed audience. We all had different expectations, and Omar handled them all I would say.
Article by Jaie Miller
Images via Omar Puente’s Myspace