Perhaps the most renowned manifestation of Cuban culture, the music of the island has crossed borders and invaded almost every corner of this world. It has been played, in and out of Cuba, both by Cubans and foreigners who fall for that glow, that joy that comes with Cuban rhythms. A mixture, a blend–as most of Cuban culture is–music is perhaps the perfect formula in which all the continents and all the ages have merged. Cuban music is a feast, a celebration, a ceremony, a heritage, and a journey. From Europe, Africa, and Asia, nestled in the heart of the American continent–its sea heart, at least–all the rhythms have joined in one, and that one has exploded into a handful of other rhythms, like a flower opens up and showers the spores that shall become even more flowers.
That voice! The energy infused in Celia Cruz’ voice impacted the world with an infectious sense of joy and celebration. It inspired a new musical genre, stimulating a powerful connection around the globe. Behind that magical voice was a woman of color who conquered the mucho macho male-dominated Latin music industry of the 1950’s. As a true ambassador for Cuban culture, she embodied salsa with a unique sense of style and, in a single word, brought vibrancy to her legendary performances and drew nostalgia for her country. Even today, she still reigns as “The Queen of Salsa.”
She was born Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso on October 21, 1925, in Havana, Cuba. On July 16, 2003, Celia Cruz, the most popular Latin artist of the 20th century died of brain cancer in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Her musical list of accomplishments spans 4 decades and includes 3 Grammy Awards, 4 Latin Grammy Awards, 23 gold records, and matches the span of her talents and prestigious honors like a National Medal of Arts, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Smithsonian Institution. From being honored with a Google doodle to a United States postage stamp her impact and ardent love of music and Cuba never faltered. Celia wrote about music in her autobiography, “I am a fan of all types of Cuban music: Lucumí (Afro-Cuban songs), son, rumba, cha-cha-chá, bolero, mambo, and danzón. I believe that music is Cuba’s greatest gift to the world, and I learned to appreciate it at home since music was very important to our family.”
In 1950’s Cuba the radio was very important for musicians since this is where their fame and popularity came from. There were numerous amateur hour shows and programs highlighting professional performers along with newer singers. As a young girl, Celia sang in the shower until she won a popular talent show contest called “La Hora del Té” for singing a tango, “Nostalgia.” Her prize was just a cake but it marked her as a singer. Ms. Cruz completed a teaching degree yet never taught school. Thankfully, through her love for music and gifted voice, she was able to later teach the world salsa.
At the National Conservatory of Music in Havana Celia studied music theory, voice, and piano. Her big break came when she replaced the female singer of an already well-known band. The group traveled to many Latin American countries performing popular Cuban music styles like bolero, son, cha-cha-chá, danzón, and guaracha. Havana was internationally known for its nightlife at the time when Celia joined La Sonora Matancera and together they played everywhere including the renowned top nightclub, Tropicana. Being part of La Sonora Matancera led Celia to two other names. It was with the band that she became known as “The Guarachera de Cuba” for her interpretation of that style of music. The other name, because of the band, came when she met Pedro Knight, a trumpet player. They fell in love and were married. Later, when they left the band he became her manager. Away from the band Celia performed and recorded with Yoruba singers–Yoruba is a West African religion that is known in Cuba as Santeria. Its music, which praises different deities, is a strong influence in Latin music and common in everyday Cuban culture. “Yemaya” is a popular song she recorded with La Sonora Matancera. Yemaya is the Yoruba Orisha or Goddess of the living sea considered the mother of all in the Yoruba religion.
It was while in Mexico, fulfilling a one-year gig with the band in 1959, when Celia decided not to return to Cuba because of the turmoil in the country. She had plenty of success in Mexico not only as a singer but also as an actress. Celia performed in Mexican films and also on television. Her popularity grew even more when she moved from Mexico to the United States, New York City to be exact. This is where she settled; home to an already active melting pot of Latin sounds and musical legends.
During this time, Salsa music was born blending elements from Cuban, Puerto Rican, Colombian, Dominican, and Brazilian styles of music along with jazz, blues, and rock. This new musical genre exploded. During this time Celia Cruz and timbales player Tito Puente, “The King of Latin Music” best known for mambo and Latin jazz, teamed up to perform and record eight salsa albums, further popularizing salsa. As her popularity grew Celia headlined a concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall. After, Celia and Johnny Pacheco, a musician and the person noted for coining the term “salsa” as a musical genre, recorded a very successful album together (Celia y Johnny, 1974). Soon, Celia was part of The Fania All-Stars and traveled all over Europe, England, and France performing and spreading the salsa sound. The Fania All-Stars were a musical ensemble that showcased its musicians and was the leading salsa record label. Celia also participated in Zaire ’74, a musical festival that was part of the famous heavyweight fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman and was documented in the film, “Soul Power.” This performance was meaningful because of the race issues surrounding the concert.
Celia visited Miami often, where she met and became friends with three Cuban ladies, who would become lifelong friends and her assistants.
We reunited these friends–Zoila Valdes, Elia Perez de Alejo, and Mary Garcia–who shared priceless memories of their sister, Celia Cruz. Each of them remembered taking turns helping Celia get ready for her performances while in Miami, and many times on tour. It was all in the family since one woman applied Celia’s makeup, the other wrangled the wigs, and another managed her wardrobe.
Celia Cruz was known for her electrifying performances and also for her unique styles on stage. Her outfits became more elaborate throughout the years. Perhaps the only thing that would upstage her voice was her look featuring matching colors of dress and wigs, with sequins and/or feathers. Every glitzy look was entirely her own creation. She was the first to wear an adapted version of a traditional Cuban rumba dress known as “bata cubana.” From head to toe, her look was always unique and flamboyant, including her shoes. Designed by a Mexican shoemaker, Mr. Nieto, some of the shoes have been donated for exhibit at The Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. These custom creations included a swan sculpture as a heel, and even a metal circle giving the singer height as well as a statement. Her best friends also shared with us how Celia always had lipstick at hand. She wouldn’t go anywhere without her lipstick. When searching for it in her purse she would turn the large bag upside down and dump all the contents out to locate her lipstick.
Her best friends tell us how thoughtful a person she was. How she went out of her way to make people feel special, from family and friends to fans. Some say that was the secret to her success throughout many decades. Celia was known to go into the back of the restaurant and greet the kitchen staff. She was a staple at the annual fundraiser for “Liga Contra el Cancer,” a non-profit organization that provides free medical treatment to low-income and uninsured Floridians, and stayed until the end of the telethon. Was it a surprise then that this sweet woman’s catchphrase became “azúcar” (sugar)? It has been written that she used the phrase, Azúcar! to inject energy into the crowd at her performances as well as encourage nostalgia for Cuba. In fact, the phrase came from a quick exchange with a waiter. Her best friends reveal a time when they were with Celia at a meal. The waiter asked if she wanted coffee with or without sugar, to which she replied, “I’m Cuban, how could I not want sugar in my coffee? Azúcar!” Later that evening during her performance she retold the story as a joke and once again yelled “Azúcar!” The crowd loved it and the phrase stuck.
Celia Cruz was so beloved, through so many years of performing all over the world, that when she died thousands of fans attended her memorial services in three separate cities: Miami; New York City; and Cali, Colombia. The Cali memorial service lasted for three days. The Colombian city, epicenter of salsa in that country, loved Celia as one of their own.
Today, the Celia Cruz Foundation, a non-for-profit organization dedicated to raising funds for underprivileged Latino students wishing to study music, has the mission of maintaining the legacy of Celia Cruz alive for future generations.
Olga brillaba y era una señora cantante cuando México y Cuba se abrazaban a través de la música. Formaba parte de esa constelación donde Pedro Vargas, Toña “La Negra”, Jorge Negrete intercambiaban sus talentos con Ninón Sevilla, María Antonieta Pons, Rosita Fornés, en los predios de ambas naciones.
Women have and will continue to impact the world of the arts for centuries. Writing, song, theater and dance have been key instruments in expressing the love, the joy, and the profundity brewing within each of these inspiring women. In the words of Gala host Gloria Estefan, “The evidence is resoundingly clear: Women have left a brilliant footprint in the history of the arts, and in the history of our civilization. I mean, hello, we made civilization!”
Now, more than ten years after the memoir was published, the Florida Grand Opera presents an opera entitled Before Night Falls from March 18-25 at The Adrienne Arsht center on Biscayne Boulevard in Miami. Written by Jorge Martín and directed by David Gately, Before Night Falls is a stunning musical depiction of Reinaldo Arenas’ life and memories.
¿Beny Moré? Mi abuela y mi madre lo mencionaron en sus conversaciones, mientras yo era muy niña. No llegué a conocerlo hasta que, en la escuela, a un sesudo se le ocurrió la idea de organizar, para una actividad, una coreografía de la canción “Bonito y sabroso”. Como todavía les sucede a los niños cubanos, también tuvimos que aprender su letra e investigar sobre su autor.
Una larga vejez con lucidez y fortaleza es un regalo de la vida. Merecedor de ese obsequio especial fue un gran trovador cubano, que vivió más de nueve décadas y actuó hasta poco antes de abandonar el reino de los vivos. Quienes lo conocimos lo recordamos como Compay Segundo, y algunos nos empeñamos en darle el título de Rey del Chan Chan. Él hizo disfrutar a millones de personas, con más de cien canciones de géneros como: el son, bolero, bolero-son, changüí, la guaracha y la guajira.
Throughout the 90s, in a time preparing itself for the new millennium, fusion and dance electronica, with its deep beats and futuristic synthesizing sounds, were at the cutting edge of music. Little did anyone expect one of the biggest hits of all time in music to become something felt so deeply from the past.
Detenerse a escuchar, sin la menor posibilidad de intentar quedarse inmóvil, a Compay Primo y a Compay Segundo -en un primer momento- y luego hacer lo mismo con la irrupción de Rey Caney, es transportarse a esa plataforma musical donde las voces están perfectamente ensambladas.
Continúo abriéndole el camino a mi inmodestia santiaguera -por los aportes de mi tierra a la riqueza sonora de Cuba-, y, al compás de Lágrimas negras (el primer bolero-son) me propongo contarle cómo surgió este número musical, versionado por infinidad de solistas y agrupaciones de todas partes del mundo.
Es un eminente cronista, un músico innato, un ser humano especial. Se llama: Enrique Bonne Castillo.
Nació en 1926, en San Luis, al norte de Santiago de Cuba. En el pedazo de tierra fértil que le dio el derecho de nacer a un grande como Félix Benjamín Caignet, el padre de la radionovela. Allí, la vida también les dio la bienvenida a renombradas figuras del son. Ibrahim Ferrer, estrella del Buena Vista Social Club; Félix Valera, el padre de La Familia Valera Miranda y el internacional Cándido Fabré son ejemplos que permiten afirmar que “si el Son tiene un escondite no queda duda alguna que es en San Luis”. (Slogan que presenta el sitio Soneros de San Luis, Santiago de Cuba)
Y desde San Luis…a Santiago, a Cuba, al mundo. La música de Bonne ha llegado al pueblo a través de guarachas, sones, danzones, boleros, canciones, chachachás, danzas, valses…La cadencia divina y el repicar de los cueros convirtieron a sus Tambores de Oriente, desde 1961, en una auténtica autoridad dentro de las orquestas cubanas. Le sacó música al pilón y registró su inmortal ritmo.
Más de dos centenares de composiciones llevan la firma de Enrique Bonne. Hoy celebro el Premio Nacional de Música 2016 que se le ha entregado al maestro santiaguero. Al emblemático compositor de Italian Boy, No quiero piedra en mi camino, Manigueta, Manigueta, Se tambalea, A cualquiera se le muere un tío, Billy the kid, Yo no me la robé, vigilante y Usted volverá a pasar.
El máximo galardón del Instituto Cubano de la Música llegó ahora. Pero, el premio del pueblo le fue otorgado al querido y respetado artista desde su primera entrega de amor incondicional al arte y a su público. Desde aquel 1950 cuando irrumpió con su talento en el pentagrama musical de la isla.
Me sumo a los aplausos, al cariño y agradecimiento que mis coterráneos han expresado por la invaluable entrega, profesional y espiritual, del estimado Bonne; a quien deberíamos premiar por mucho más.
Por mi parte, me quedo con su sonrisa y con sus ojitos pícaros. Con la sapiencia y lucidez de sus palabras, con el dulce sabor de sus recuerdos del Tele Rebelde que ayudó a fundar, de los carnavales que no le pueden faltar. Me quedo con la imagen de su mano entrelazada con la de su hermosa Juana Elba, con la huella de sus pasos por la mítica calle Heredia y con el privilegio de haberle entrevistado en muchas ocasiones y de disfrutar su compañía en las fiestas de Chilín.
Me quedo con su humildad, con su llaneza. Con la brisa fresca que provoca su penca cuando dirige sus tambores. Con la fortaleza del artista que a sus 90 años todavía dice Que no se apague la vela, porque seguirá aportando a la cultura cubana.
Maestro, amigo, disfrute su Premio Nacional de Música. Gócelo con la misma alegría y sabrosura que emanan de sus creaciones; que ahora sí no importa que le digan feo. Ojalá la vida me permita visitarle una vez más en su cálido hogar de calle D, para darle otro abrazo y hacerle una invitación a su manera: Dame la mano y caminemos por las calles de nuestra amada Santiago.