The Rough Guide to Celia Cruz (World Music Network RGNET 1150 CD, 2005)
Sure, the lateCelia Cruz Celia Cruz was the Queen of Salsa, but that title was too limited. Taking into account all that salsa is rooted in, including deep Afro-Cuban rhythms, core aesthetics that touch upon both the spiritual and the sensual and song structures that stretched the bounds of older styles like guaracha, son and guajira, Cruz seems more like the Queen of Latin Music, period. Indeed, if you listen to how expertly Cruz sings a deeply traditional song like this disc’s “Elegua” – an ode to a Yoruba diety that’s all percussion and
voice -and compare it to one of her more salsafied collaborations with Ray Barretto or Johnny Pacheco, it’s clear just how much range she had as a singer.
The deft cadences of her powerful contralto both accentuated and spurred along the rhythms going on all around her and conveyed ample emotional range even in what was sometimes perceived as mere party music. In short, the woman could sing, a fact that neither her sometimes campy visual image nor calculated
commercialization by both Spanish and English-speaking entertainment industries could change. And she was a survivor.
As Latin rhythms began to erode tradition by morphing into boogaloo and early salsa, Cruz began a musical partnership with Tito Puente that did much to bring out their mutual strengths while
simultaneously embracing both past and future musically. But that’s just one of many tales worth recounting in the life of Celia Cruz- tales better told by her music.
This Rough Guide collection (focusing heavily on Cruz’s work with the trailblazing Fania Records label) is only a single disc and thus not all-inclusive, but that does not stop it from being flat-out excellent. The selections include ’60s scorchers that endeared Cruz to Cuban exiles in NYC, tracks emphasizing the influence of forms like rumba and changui on modern salsa and sizzling songs that found the middle ground between Cuban and Puerto Rican grooves that Cruz frequently championed.
From deep roots to pop inclinations to vocals that generously shared space with solos worthy of the best Latin jams, this CD is a steaming sampling of the greatness that was Celia Cruz.