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About Xiomara Alfaro

Americans unfamiliar with the Hispanic community, and there are a few of them, might come to the following conclusion: Xiomara Alfaro is not just the most famous person named Xiomara living in the United States, she's the only one. In reality, Hispanic females have always had a fair chance of being named Xiomara, pronounced something like "shiomara" or "jiomara," and the first name is nowhere near the obscurity league of Xanthipour, Xiomysfer, or Xubitunt. A guy with the name Helio Orovio seems like he might know better than the aforementioned WASPs, yet this author of Cuban Music from A to Z gets thrown a sexual curve ball with his entry on the famous female singer, identifying Xiomara Alfaro as a man! While there are men whose performances have been compared to Diana Ross, Joan Jett, and/or Carmen Miranda, a thoroughly enjoyable way to positively prove it's a she-omara is to watch the exotic 1958 film Mambo, in which Alfaro and Sylvana Mangano are the two sultry female leads. Born in Havana, Alfaro's performing background was in musical theater, cabaret, radio, and television. She eventually began touring internationally, leaving Cuba for the United States and widening her repertoire to include anything remotely Latin.

She was a singer and dancer with the touring Katherine Dunham troupe and performed in the chorus at Las Vegas venues such as the Flamingo. Alfaro is married to the pianist Rafael Benitez. Her sister, the late Olympia Alfaro or Omí Sanyá, was a priestess or "apuón" in the Lukumí Orisha religious community, performing a type of gospel music particular to this following. In the '70s, Xiomara Alfaro herself became ordained by her sister in the Oshún faith. She continues to perform and record Latin music and often takes part in workshops and educational events with her husband. ~ Eugene Chadbourne

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