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Artist Profiles

Celia Cruz Is

By Published: October 6, 2003
Celia, also allegedly refused to share a stage with Cuban singer Isaac Delgado in New York, but that incident –real or not– was inconsequential for either one’s career. It is also said that she refused to share the stage with a Cuban group in a Colombian show in the late 70s. Of more importance, and largely ignored by the Hispanic and Latin America media during her televised funerals, was the fact that Cruz overcame Cuban racism from the outset of her career on sheer fortitude, singular talent, nary a hint of cultural or racial victimization and no scapegoating. She owned her dignity and no one would take it away from “esa negra.” No one ever did.

In Miami, musical experts, musicians, producers and composers were widely ignored as reliable sources of information or on air commentaries during the broadcasts. Although Víctor Daniel, the Argentinean composer that penned “La vida es un carnaval” from Celia’s 1998 release Mi vida es cantar and Willy Chirino –who produced one her most recent recordings– appeared occasionally on both of the previously mentioned networks, the former added little of substance and the latter was ridiculously hyperbolic. Neither one was of much importance to Cruz’s career as any number of other figures were. Why wouldn’t the Miami based networks use people like Nat Chediak, Cristobal Díaz Ayala, Ralph Mercado, Willie Colón, Johnny Pacheco or the endless array of musicians that could’ve expounded much on Cruz’s craft, life and personality? In addition, where were the famed Colombian experts on the Sonora Matancera?

The slipshod broadcasters also managed to do all of the following and more:


1. Reveal a blatantly uninformed anti-Caucasian prejudice as both networks –Univisión in particular– in their desire to mythologize Celia’s career, wondered aloud, in various ways, as if saying “Why was Celia popular among rhythmically dead White people?” Anyone with even the most basic understanding of how Cuban music has developed would laugh and cry at such idiocies. Similar racist and musicologically insulting off the cuff remarks uttered wonderment during the Univisión coverage at some Japanese singer’s admiration for Celia during one of the Premios lo Nuestro so-called awards show. The broadcasters couldn’t identify the band, or the singer, and concentrated on the “surprising” fact that even the Japanese were into Salsa and Celia Cruz. Well, Japanese people have been into Latin music since before all of the talking heads in Telemundo and Univisión were born! The Japanese singer in question is Nora and the group was Orquesta de la Luz. Since they toured around the world for a two to three years and had platinum albums, one must wonder how could ignorance of the group could be tolerated in such an international television broadcast, let alone the idea that the Orquesta de La Luz was some sort of pony show, or that the Japanese were incapable of relating, performing, dance, create or even supersede Latin music of any kind.

2. Much was made of the fact that Cruz never intended to crossover to the “Anglo” market and that she stuck with the Spanish language. Well, when your English is mediocre, success is met at middle age and you don’t look like an aging Playboy bunny, thoughts of crossing over to other linguistic and cultural markets would be quite laughable. She didn’t need to cross over to other markets as they crossed over to her, and she would’ve been the first to spouse learning English well, contrary to the misguided cultural piety of the network presenters.

3. Their collective amazement at the crowd’s orderliness in Miami reveals well-founded self-prejudices against Hispanics that, if pointed out to the broadcasters themselves, they would probably disavow. Even people in line under the hot sun of Miami were quoted on camera commenting on how surprisingly nice and orderly people were. Well, I better leave this one alone as it speaks for itself and not the way that most would readily think of...

4. It was astounding to see broadcasters engage in so much psychobabble and speculation on the mindset and condition of Pedro Knight, Cruz’s husband of more than 40 years. Judging from their comments, Knight was on the verge of “realizing” Cruz’s death and who knows how and when he would react to her demise. Knight knew her death was forthcoming and he’s quite active hawking Cruz’s last recording Regalo del alma. Unlike the Hispanic networks, Knight was prepared for his wife’s death.

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