Sunday, December 7, 2008

Celia Cruz "Guantanamera"

There are some drugs so strong that daily usage is contraindicated. I don't know what side-effects, other than tears of joy, Celia Cruz's voice may cause, but if the issue were potency, I'm sure the FDA would want to have her banned. Celia Cruz, 1925-2003, was, according to Wikipedia, (and here one cannot doubt them) "the most influential female figure in the history of Cuban music." Her clear and powerful voice had few rivals, and her sense of joy was incomparable.

Cruz's career had just begun to take off when the communists rose to power in Cuba. In 1960 she left the country, moving to New Jersey and becoming a US citizen. She recorded some 60 albums. She had a famous long term collaboration with Latin drummer Tito Puente. She performed constantly until shortly before her death from cancer. She was buried in Woodlawn Cemetary in the Bronx with soil she had saved from a visit to Guantánamo.

My favorite song by "La Celia" and her most well known among Americans is Guantanamera which means "The Girl from Guantánamo." The song is the unofficial anthem of the island. One of the most beautiful ballads of the 20th Century, it was composed in 1929 by Joselíto Fernández. It was inspired when Fernandez was spurned by a pretty girlk at whom he had made a pass. Over the years the lyrics have evolved to have a more topical meaning. The music is plaintive yet joyful and defiant.

The first verse is:

Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma
Guantanamera, guajira, Guantanamera

which translates as:

I am a sincere man
From where the palm tree grows
And before dying I want
To share the verses of my soul.

You can see the full lyrics here. The simple melody performed with steel drums and flute is one of the purest and transporting of sounds. While the song may make you cry, it should be with tears of joy. Here is one of the better performances by Cruz available on YouTube:


Anonymous said...

Nice to see the blog post about Celia. I just wanted to make a correction, Tito Puente was Puerto Rican:

Ted Keer said...

Thanks, anonymous. I really did think I knew he was Cuban. Well, I changed the article to say Latin, since it's less cumbersome than "born in Harlem to Puerto Rican parents." I do appreciate the heads up.