Latin music devotees will already be well acquainted with the unique qualities which helped to establish Havana born Cruz as one of the leading lights of the genre during the latter half of the twentieth century, an the appearance of this splendid new anthology gives the uninitiated an opportunity to savour her innately self-assured performing style too. The inexpensive 2 CD set serves up a heady blend of classics and rarities, showcasing her debut 78 from 1950 alongside some perennial crowd pleasers and a selection of the relatively obscure recordings that she made for the Seeco label during the mid sixties.
For non-aficionados, Celia Cruz is best remembered as a gutsy Latina Tina Turner. When she died in 2003, she’d recently made the whole world salsa (or attempt to) in ‘La Vida es un Carnaval’ – on which she sounded strong and sexy, and a whole lot younger than anyone would have guessed for someone born in 1924. This overview of the first 15 years of her career, between 1950 and 1965, takes us to a less sassy but far subtler world of Cuban soft boleros, charming chachachas and medium-tempo guarachas. Cruz, recording with orchestras such as La Sonora Matancera (all 28 tracks on the first CD derive from this collaboration) and those of Rene Hernandez and Vicentico Valdes (who figure on disc two, titled ‘Favourites and Rarities’), provided a fresh, only slightly fruity voice for stylish big-band backdrop, through which a bold brass section occasionally blasted through. The disc comes with a 24-page booklet containing reprint s of the covers of rare Cruz albums – all bare shoulders and big grins – as well as notes on the source albums and a 4000 word essay on the singer by Pablo Yglesias. An insightful and inspired package.
Cuban diva Celia Cruz recorded “Cao Cao Mani Pacao”, her 78rpm debut, in 1950. It opens this excellent collection of her formative recordings, and the self-assurance that made her an icon of Latin music is evident from the outset. The joy of Cruz is that she never strained for a note, no matter how tricky a song’s melodic line or how testing its dynamics. Her contralto was relaxed and assertive as it negotiated the dance floor intricacies and trumpet-heavy ensemble flair of backing group La Sonora Matancera. Fronting those musicians, who thrived on rhythmic swagger, she never sounded hemmed in or uneasy. This music was her home ground, even when exiled in New York – even while giving a novelty rumba treatment to “Hava Nageela”. The 57 remarkably consistent tracks across these discs provide a cornerstone for any Latin music collection.