The seminal sessions that Cuban vocalist Celia Cruz recorded with La Sonora Matancera during the '50s are rightfully considered by many as the apex of Afro-Caribbean pop. Songs such as Cao Cao Maní Picao, El Yerberito Moderno and Tumba La Caña Jibarito, to name but a few, are venerated by Matancera fans throughout the Americas. ...MORE >
The seminal sessions that Cuban vocalist Celia Cruz recorded with La Sonora Matancera during the '50s are rightfully considered by many as the apex of Afro-Caribbean pop. Songs such as Cao Cao Maní Picao, El Yerberito Moderno and Tumba La Caña Jibarito, to name but a few, are venerated by Matancera fans throughout the Americas.
In the '70s, when the salsa explosion took over Latin music with its edgy vibe, Celia adapted to the sound of the times by recording with hip bandleaders like Johnny Pacheco and Willie Colón. But in the years between the golden era of the '50s and the apex of the Fania label in the '70s and '80s, she continued championing the warm Matancera aesthetic with a series of albums recorded in Mexico with the orchestra of Memo Salamanca.
Bravo is one such album - a mostly neglected gem that deserves wider recognition and will delight Celia Cruz aficionados with the peerless quality of its repertoire and lush orchestrations.
During its heyday, La Matancera displayed an unusual talent for combining art and commerce. Its condensed nuggets of three-minute sweetness were undeniably poppy, while at the same time safeguarding the conventions of tropical formats like the bolero and the cha-cha-cha.
Recorded with Salamanca as well as the orchestra of Juan Bruno Tarrazza, the 12 songs in this collection are equally complex: hummable, accessible, and surprisingly sophisticated.
The opening song (and the album's title track), Bravo encapsulates all those qualities. The wicked irony of its lyrics (Celia applauds a former lover for breaking her heart) recalls the darkly humorous universe of quintessential salsa composer Tite Curet Alonso.
The gimmicky effect of the percussive clapping simulating Celia's applause is complemented beautifully by La Reina's wounded delivery. She sounds unusually sentimental when she belts out the words "Te odio tanto/Que yo misma me espanto/De mi forma de odiar" ("I detest you so/That I scare myself/With my own hate") with her trademark sincerity and crystal-clear enunciation. This is an exquisite moment for Celia connoisseurs.
Bravo was released in 1967, the same year that The Beatles changed the course of popular music with their magnum opus Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The hit singles that dominated the mainstream charts often featured daring touches of psychedelia and a strong R&B influence.
Backed by Salamanca, Celia makes a couple of endearing attempts at reaching a new generation of listeners. "Suenan Los Tambores" and "Guárdame Tu Amor" are self-defined here as belonging to the Tropical A-Go-Go genre. And on "La Campeona," Celia introduces herself as the singer who made audiences dance with "El Yerberito Moderno" and "Burundanga" - then acknowledges her desire to be part of la nueva ola (the New Wave.)
It is interesting to notice that even though this tune finds the singer calling herself "the champ" and boasting about her sterling accomplishments with La Matancera, there is not a hint of arrogance in her delivery. Until the very end of her career in 2003, La Reina remained a paradigm of modesty and unassuming behavior.
Most importantly, Bravo takes us back to a time when Celia Cruz was at her absolute vocal peak. One listen to her version of the musty "Guantanamera" included here is enough to justify her title of la guarachera de Cuba. In effect, Bravo is as good a Celia Cruz album as you are likely to find - rivaling her more famous Fania sessions in sheer bravado.