Are you ready to be dazzled? This collection of Celia Cruz hits contains some of the most gorgeous and infectious recordings that Latin music has ever given us. A breathless tour de force through Celia's prodigious discography, the CD that you hold in your hands will make you feel nostalgic for a bygone era, from the early '70s to the mid-'80s, when Afro-Caribbean aficionados danced to these timeless songs as they were heard on the radio for the first time, and quickly became hits in New York, Puerto Rico and South America. ...MORE >
Are you ready to be dazzled? This collection of Celia Cruz hits contains some of the most gorgeous and infectious recordings that Latin music has ever given us. A breathless tour de force through Celia's prodigious discography, the CD that you hold in your hands will make you feel nostalgic for a bygone era, from the early '70s to the mid-'80s, when Afro-Caribbean aficionados danced to these timeless songs as they were heard on the radio for the first time, and quickly became hits in New York, Puerto Rico and South America.
We begin with "Químbara," the anthem of anthems that marked Celia's resurrection in the midst of the '70s salsa explosion. A song that she continued performing in concert until the very end of her life, and one that had tremendous symbolic significance in her career.
When she left her beloved Cuba in 1960, Celia was the star vocalist with La Sonora Matancera. The orchestra's tropical pop aesthetic had transcended the island, and the Matancera was a legend throughout the Spanish speaking world. But the singer's decision to launch a solo career by recording with Tito Puente in New York and Memo Salamanca in Mexico was far from successful in commercial terms.
The albums that Celia recorded during the '60s and early '70s speak volumes about her breadth as an artist, while failing to connect with a new generation of listeners hopelessly in love with Anglo pop-rock.
Fortunately, Fania co-founder Johnny Pacheco came to the rescue.
The Dominican bandleader was a huge fan. While Fania artists such as Willie Colón, La Sonora Ponceña and Roberto Roena favored a challenging brand of progressive salsa, Pacheco spent most of his career paying tribute to the Matancera and the sweet, uncomplicated roots of Cuban dance music.
The artistic partnership between Cruz and Pacheco was an ideal proposition for both. Pacheco got to work with one of his all-time favorite singers, while Cruz found herself in the hands of an understanding musical director. The first of many collaborations, the Celia & Johnny LP came out in 1974. "Químbara" was its opening track, followed by "Toro Mata," yet another dance floor stomper, adapted from a famous Peruvian folk tune. Virtually every track on this album was a hit (the zesty "Lo Tuyo Es Mental" is also included here for your listening and dancing pleasure.)
Celia and Johnny returned the following year with Tremendo Caché, a collection that is almost as strong as its predecessor. The hyperkinetic "Cúcala" was a highlight here, showcasing the complexities of the diva's vocalizing, as well as "Oriza Eh," and a fun reading of "La Sopa En Botella." From the 1978 release Eternos, "El Guabá" is a tightly arranged merengue, we can hear Celia in a particularly buoyant mood here, since she is paying tribute to the quintessential song format from Pacheco's homeland.
In 1977, Celia began a new partnership that would result in the most sophisticated recordings of her career. Bringing Willie Colón as her musical director was an inspired idea, and the trombonist, who had already become a salsa icon through his work with Héctor Lavoe, saw this opportunity as a confirmation of his privileged status in tropical music.
No wonder that Only They Could Have Made This Album has the luxurious sheen of an instant classic from the very first bars of "Usted Abusó," an Afro-Caribbean adaptation of the Brazilian tune made famous by Maria Creuza. Celia was reportedly hesitant about performing a samba, but, just like she did many times before and after, she trusted her producer. And what a good choice she made. Colón's trademark sound, lush layers of trombones, slick production values and epic instrumental interludes, lovingly envelops the Queen's voice, and the result has an aristocratic feel to it that is hard to forget.
The album yielded many hits, one of which was the tender "A Papá," a Mon Rivera composition that explores the unique sonorities of Puerto Rican folklore. The idealistic "Latinos En Estados Unidos" is culled from the 1981 release Celia y Willie.
The opening track off the 1983 album Tremendo Trío, "Nadie Se Salva De La Rumba" is one of Celia's most devastating tracks, an underrated gem and perhaps my favorite song of hers. At this point in time, her voice showcases the ease and confidence of a proven star, and the backing of Ray Barretto on congas and Adalberto Santiago on vocals is peerless.
A chameleonic performer, Celia could be stubbornly faithful to the roots of the music known as salsa ("Nadie Se Salva De La Rumba" is an almost frightening display of Afro-Cuban power), but she could also make huge concessions to the mainstream with unerring elegance. One of these "concessions" is her straight-faced take on "Bamboleo," the Gipsy Kings pseudo-flamenco smash, from a session with the Fania All Stars. Not surprisingly, Celia's version became a hit, too.
From the album Algo Especial Para Recordar, a cover of the Sonora Matancera classic "Cao Cao Maní Picao" found Tito Puente attempting to recreate the Matancera aesthetic in a New York recording studio, the same dream that Johnny Pacheco would follow a few years later.
Fittingly, the disc comes to an end with the original studio version of "Bemba Colorá," the opening track of the Son Con Guaguancó album. In 1973, Celia established herself as the unequivocal Queen of Salsa when she performed a revamped orchestration of this song with the Fania All Stars at the Yankee Stadium.
Stardom didn't change her, though. From the warmth of her first recordings with La Sonora Matancera in Cuba to the digital slickness of her last mega-hits for Sony Discos in the new millennium, Celia remained equally passionate about her singing, and about the power of her music to make her millions of fans happy.
Celia Cruz left this world in 2003, but her legacy lives on, deep, joyful, transcendental.