Saturday, July 22, 2006

Celia Cruz

I stumbled across this CD one day with my heart wide open and took it home with a glint in my eye. Knowing nothing about it except the song titles and the Artist's name. Celia Cruz. How come the hunch? I dunno. It turned out to be a collection of the early recordings by the Cuban born Queen of Salsa on the Seeco label from 1951 to 1965 and it's a real delight. Highlighting her strident and swinging voice, and recorded mostly before she moved to the States in 1960, every track now has me going "Ah yes, and this one, I love this one too"

Mr Lucky says She started out in her native Havana singing on the radio and then hooking up with La Sonora Matancera, which included trumpet player Pedro Knight, who later became her husband. Their 15-year collaboration lasted throughout the 1950s and much of the ‘60s and took them from Cuba to Mexico and finally to the United States. Our first exposure to Cruz was through these recordings and we have to admit we were somewhat confused about the Celia Cruz legend. To our novice ears, Cruz' voice sounded like a cannon without much subtlety or direct emotional contact. The observation about the cannons might be true, but her voice is so pure, it goes right for the jugular. The directness, which at first is disarming, is later one of the best things about her. All the little vocal tricks we've grown accustomed to (and even like) are gone. You'll laugh, but she's almost like Ethel Merman with a bongo.

This brings us to the other aspect that sets Cruz apart from everyone else, and that's her rhythm. She sings like a percussion instrument, especially on the call and response sections of her songs, never repeating herself and the sound is like nothing else, Cuban or otherwise.

When first listening to these early recordings, originally on the Seeco label, there's a tameness to the arrangements that wasn't exactly inspiring our hips to sway like the palms. It's only after repeated encounters that you realize that the Sonora Matancera is more like a slow hot simmer than an outright boil. The clever musical exchanges are subtle rather than bombastic.

Right on. Perfect for the recent heatwave, here. It's like being slow-cooked and marinaded all at the same time.

Ciao, Ciao Mani Picao
Meloa De Cana
Mi Bomba Sona

And as a special treat:


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