July 16, 2023 marked the 20th anniversary of the death of Celia Cruz, the Cuban music superstar and Queen of Salsa. And after all this time since her death, the Castro dictatorship still has her music banned.
Remembering Celia Cruz: 20 years after her death the Queen of Salsa’s music still banned in Cuba
“Forgiving is not forgetting. Forgiving is remembering without pain.” – Celia Cruz
20 years ago today on July 16, 2003 Cuban music and freedom icon Celia Cruz passed away after a battle with cancer. She was 77 years old. Special Masses are being held in memory of Celia, her mausoleum has been opened today for visitors, and the New York Cuban and Hispanic Parade will honor her today. Next year she will be appearing on U.S. currency.
She had started singing in Havanas’s cabaret’s in 1947, and recorded her first song in 1948 after joining the Las Mulatas de Fuego (The Fiery Mulattas), a group founded by Roderico Rodney Neyra, who would become known as the choreographer of the Tropicana Cabaret. Her breakout into stardom took place in 1950 when she joined the Sonora Matancera, and recorded her first songs with them. She would become an international star singing with this group over the next 15 years. She also met her husband Pedro Knight at the first rehearsal of the Sonora Matancera. She had her first gold record in the United States with the song “Burundanga” in 1957.
Celia made the decision to live and sing in freedom, and in order to do that she had to leave Cuba during the Castro dictatorship. When her mom, Catalina Alfonso, was ill she tried to return to see her in 1962, but was barred from entering the country by the regime. When her mother died Celia was blocked by the dictatorship from attending her funeral.
The above story is familiar to many, but the details are not, and are worth knowing.
On January 1, 1959 the Cuban revolution took power in Cuba, and despite their claims to be restoring democracy, immediately set out to impose a communist dictatorship, but needed to capture cultural icons and turn them into mouthpieces of the new regime.
Fidel Castro tried to create a situation that forced the salsa singer to pay him homage, but Celia refused. Salserísimo Perú, a site created in Peru by three journalists to share information on salsa and tropical music have reported on it.. Below is an excerpt of Celia Cruz’s first “encounter” with Fidel Castro.
“In the early months of 1959, Celia Cruz was hired to sing with a pianist at the house of the Cuban businessman Miguel Angel Quevedo. Quevedo owned the magazine Bohemia, the most influential in Cuba and who had supported the revolution in the last few years. The guerrilla movement with a certain Fidel Castro in front proclaimed in Santiago the beginning of the revolution. For the Guarechera, Fidel was ending free expression and the arts in her country. The night of the show in the home of Quevedo, Celia was singing standing next to the pianist, when suddenly the guests started to run to the front door of the house. Fidel Castro had arrived. Neither she nor the pianist moved and continued singing. Suddenly, Quevedo approached Celia and told her that Fidel wanted to meet her because in his guerrilla days, when he cleaned his rifle, he was listening to Burundanga. Celia replied that she had been hired to sing next to the piano, and that was her place. If Fidel wanted to meet her, he would have to come to her. But the commandant did not do that.”
This is totalitarianism. It is not enough not to oppose the dictatorship, but you must actively support it to avoid punishment.
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