I’ve obsessed a lot about Celia Cruz on this blog, so in honour of her birthday today I wrote this homage to the woman with a voice that never quits and style for days.
Mainly I focus on Celia’s incredible performance with Fania All Stars at the three-day Zaire ‘74 concert. The show was conceived by Hugh Masekela and his producer Stewart Levine and was meant to precede the George Foreman vs Muhammad Ali fight that President Mobutu had decided should be held in Zaire under the title “Rumble in the Jungle”. Go watch the performance, even her sound check is like, damn! But I also touch on her importance to AfroLatinidad as a black woman who showed two fingers to the tendency to hide or whitewash African cultural elements in Caribbean culture (and to the white male dominated Latin music industry). She sang about Shango, and she pulled syllables from Santeria to form her own musical lexicon (quimbara, quimbara cuba quim ba ba).
She was a woman formidable in her femininity: unapologetically flamboyant and colourful in a way that refused blandness, passivity and even fetishization. She also had a wicked sense of comic timing. In a 1988 BBC Arena performance she told the audience “If your husband hits you, make sure you hit him back…” adding “If you can’t do it with your hand, hit him with the frying pan” then breaks into a booty roll that is second to none.