La Guarachera de Cuba: Celia Cruz

Good morning, family.

Since I spent some time last month celebrating the excellence of our musica afrolatina, and since the 2/28 Content Salon focused on the complex math of Salsa, for Women’s History Month let me share with you a personal favorite of so many Latino and Afrolatino people, the Queen of Salsa, La Guarachera de Cuba: Celia Cruz.

Over the course of a non-stop career spanning over 50 years, Cruz performed and recorded hundreds of songs on dozens of albums (I count 152, but that includes some compilations and minor appearances), is featured or is the subject of a couple dozen films and telenovelas (including a riveting biography series on Netflix. You’re welcome.), and while she was at it, she stole the hearts of so many. Over 200,000 people paid their respects while she lay in state at Miami’s Freedom Tower in 2003, with vigils held all over the world.

Cruz worked hard, y’all, and she did it with the utmost joy and love, pouring herself out for her fans. Check out this 2002 performance of a remix that won her a grammy for “best interpretation” (she is 76 here, and has a tumor in her brain, but there is simply no stopping her.)

Let’s take a closer reading of this Music as Text, in keeping with the Woke Cypha Elements:

Mi voz puede volar, puede atravesar My voice can fly, can cross
cualquier herida, cualquier tiempo, cualquier soledad, Any wound, any time, any solitude
sin que la pueda controlar toma forma de canción, Without control it forms itself into a song
así es mi voz, que sale de mi corazón So is my voice, that leaves from my heart
Y volará, sin yo querer And flies, without my will
por los caminos más lejanos Upon the furthest roads
por los sueños que soñé Upon the dreams I dream
será reflejo del amor de lo que me tocó vivir To be a reflection of the love for the life I had to live
será la música de fondo de lo mucho que sentí To be the music behind all the the things I’ve felt
Oye mi son, mi viejo son Hear my song, my ancient song
tiene la clave de cualquier generación It has the key of every generation
en el alma de mi gente, en el cuero del tambor In the soul of my people, in the leather of the drum
en las manos del conguero, en los pies del bailador In the hands of the drummer, and the feet of the dancer
Yo viviré, allí estaré I will live, I will be there
mientras pase una comparsa con mi rumba cantaré Among the crowd with my Rhumba I will sing
seré siempre lo que fui, con mi azúcar para ti I will always be what I was, with my sugar for you
Yo viviré, yo viviré I will live, I will live
Y ahora vuelvo a recordar, aquel tiempo atrás And now I return to long ago
cuando me fui buscando el cielo de la libertad When I went looking through the heavens for freedom
cuántos amigos que dejé y cuántas lágrimas lloré How many friends I left behind, how many tears I cried
Yo viviré, para volverlos a encontrar I will live, to find them again
y seguiré, con mi canción And will continue with my song
bailando música caliente como bailo yo Dancing music, hot, the way I dance
y cuando suene una guaracha And when I dream that dance
y cuando suene un huahuancó And when I dream that rhythm
en la sangre de mi pueblo, en su cuerpo estaré yo In the blood of my village, in its body I will be
(Sobreviviendo) Surviving
En esta vida lo que estoy haciendo In this life that I am making
sobreviviendo Surviving
estoy sobreviviendo, estoy sobreviviendo I am surviving, I am surviving
(Sobreviviendo) Surviving
Para que la gente me siga oyendo So that people continue to hear me
(Rompiendo barreras, voy sobreviviendo) Breaking barriers, I go surviving
(cruzando fronteras, voy sobreviviendo) Crossing borders, I go surviving
Doy gracias a Dios por este regalo I thank God for this gift
Él me dio la voz y yo te la he dado Who gave me this voice to give to you
¡Con Gusto! With pleasure
(Rompiendo barreras, voy sobreviviendo) Breaking barriers, I go surviving
(cruzando fronteras, voy sobreviviendo) Crossing borders, I go surviving
Para ti mi gente siempre cantaré For you my people I will sing
te daré mi azúcar, caramba y sobreviviré I wil give my sugar, shout, and will survive
(Rompiendo barreras, voy sobreviviendo) Breaking barriers, I go surviving
(cruzando fronteras, voy sobreviviendo) Crossing borders, I go surviving
Yo viviré, yo viviré, yo viviré y sobreviviré I will live, I will live, I will live, and will survive

There is so much here!

Cruz recast’s Gloria Gaynor’s famous “you’re not welcome anymore,” heartbreak anthem as a song about resilience and joy in the face of trials. The struggle for freedom, the tears for the friends we leave behind, the perseverance and the love for our people that carries us forward. The ancient song, hands on drums and feet dancing, the blood of our villages that we carry across all borders and barriers, into spaces that do not always love us but where we must love in order to survive.

She sang about music, rhythm, and the voice of the song as “keys” for every generation, while also doing a bit of clever wordplay since the “clave” is also a musical instrument (which I think was mentioned at that content salon, right?), it’s called the clave because it lays down the fundamental 3-2 and 2-3 rhythm that is the key to all of this musica mestizaje, this mix of the African and the American diaspora, the winds of the Caribbean carrying that song to the northernmost Caribbean city: New Orleans, Louisiana, where it would give birth, first to Jazz and Blues, and as it moved north to Rock, Hip Hop, and all the other forms of music that give you life. Bobby Sanabria explains all this well, but I’m already straying a little to far from Celia…

With so much passion and history, how could you not rock that orange hair? Or any of the myriad outfits that were Cruz’s unapologetic signature. Here’s another great outfit, and another amazing song (my personal favorite):

This one is a little tougher for me to unpack, since I am still learning to use my anger and outrage sparingly. She decided long ago not to be ruled by her anger, but to give a dismissive “fwa!” to people that tried to drag her down in their negativity. It helps me to think of this advice not as blind optimism, but as separating those people who cause the trouble and hardship that we experience in life from the beautiful gift of life itself. This is essentially the same advice as “a life well lived is the sweetest revenge.”

Todo aquel que piense All of those who think
que la vida es desigual That life is unfair
tiene que saber que no es así Have to know it is not so
que la vida es una hermosura That life is such loveliness
hay que vivirla They just have to live it
Todo aquel que piense All of those who think
que está solo y que está mal They are alone and are evil
tiene que saber que no es así Have to know it is not so
que en la vida no hay nadie solo That in life no one is alone
y siempre hay alguien And you always have someone
Ay, no hay que llorar, Ay! No need to cry
que la vida es un carnaval That life is a carnival
y es más bello vivir cantando, oh, oh, oh, It’s more beautiful to live singing
Todo aquel que piense All of those who think
que la vida siempre es cruel That life is always cruel
tiene que saber que no es así Have to know it is not so
que tan solo hay momentos malos That there are only bad moments
y todo pasa And all shall pass
Todo aquel que piense All of those who think
que esto nunca va a cambiar That this is never going to change
tiene que saber que no es así Have to know it is not so
que al mal tiempo, buena cara That when times are bad, a smile
y todo cambia Can change everything
Para aquellos que se quejan tanto (fwa!) To those who complain so much (fwa!)
para aquellos que sólo critican (fwa!) To those who only criticize (fwa!)
para aquellos que usan las armas (fwa!) To those that use guns (fwa!)
para aquellos que nos contaminan (fwa!) To those that contaminate us (fwa!)
para aquellos que hacen la guerra (fwa!) To those that make war (fwa!)
para aquellos que viven pecando (fwa!) To those that live in sin (fwa!)
para aquellos que nos maltratan (fwa!) To those that mistreat us (fwa!)
para aquellos que nos contagian (fwa!) To those that infect us (fwa!)

There is so much more Cruz to celebrate, but I won’t really do it justice, and you can go on your own journey of discovery:

Celia Cruz: Her Life and Music (NPR)

On Fania Records And The Music That Made It Matter (also NPR)

Wikipedia Entry (better, as many things are, en español)

¡Azúcar! The Life and Music of Celia Cruz (Smithsonian NAMI Study)

Some Images of those amazing outfits

That seriously worth it Netflix series


Posted in #cultureiscapital, African Diaspora, Afro Latino, Black Resistance, Music as text, PRIDE, Professional Black Girl, We Honor You, Women's History Month.

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