For those who associate Selma Reis with Brazilian pop, The Air of Havana will come as a most pleasant surprise. This CD wasn't recorded in Rio de Janeiro, and it isn't an album of Brazilian songs--for The Air of Havana, Reis traveled to Havana, Cuba, worked with a band of Cuban musicians and embraced a lot of well known Cuban songs (many of them ballads). Portuguese is the Brazilian singer's primary language, but on this superb 1999 session, she sings in Spanish exclusively. When Reis turns her attention to classics like Beny Moré's "Dolor y Perdón," Margarita Lecuona's "Babalú," and Ernesto Grenet's "Drume Negrita," one can tell that she isn't Cuban -- she sings with a Brazilian accent. But Spanish speakers will find that Reis' Spanish is very understandable, if imperfect. Although Spanish and Portuguese are sister languages and are quite similar, they certainly aren't identical -- and occasionally, Reis pronounces letters the way they would be pronounced in Portuguese rather than Spanish. Regardless, she really puts her heart into these time-honored gems, and her Brazilian accent proves to be an advantage more than anything because it makes the recording so interesting -- it isn't every day that Brazilian singers venture to Cuba and sing Cuban songs with a Cuban band. For Reis, recording The Air of Havana was no doubt a major challenge; imagine sending Celia Cruz to Rio de Janeiro or São Paolo to work with Brazilian musicians and asking her to sing in Portuguese exclusively. But it was a challenge that she handled triumphantly and soulfully, making The Air of Havana an essential purchase for lovers of Latin music.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson