What do we know about sugar? it’s addictive, it makes us happy in the moment, it gives us energy, we need it to live (in moderation, of course), it reminds us of good times, it’s comforting when we are down or need a ‘pick me up’ and we share it with family and friends to top off a meal with dessert. Well, what does sugar and Celia Cruz, the Queen of Salsa music, have in common? Celia Cruz loved sugar – so much so, in many of her songs she cries ‘AZUCAR’, just listen to ‘La Negra Tiene Tumbao’, or ‘La Vida es un Carneval’, and many others and you’ll hear it….it’s like a treat…you start to ‘wait for it’ and bam there it is AZUCAR! Actually, when she says it, she emphasized the uuu…AZUUUCAR! that’s her passion coming through…and when you say this yourself, you feel like you are channeling her beloved spirit, imbuing her vitality within you – like a sugar rush – just try it!
Celia knew how to enjoy the sweetness, the Azucar, so to speak, of life without dwelling too heavily on hardships and she did have many. Celia was born in Cuba in 1925 in poverty, she had studied to become a teacher, but was told she could make more money singing. Celia had her big break in 1950 to pursue her singing career in the U.S. Once Fidel Castro came into power in 1959, entertainers had left Cuba at the time, were not permitted back into the country. This saddened Celia deeply as she was not allowed to enter Cuba in 1962 even when her mother died. She – like other fellow Cubans who left, missed their home country, family and friends who remained. They all seemed to keep Cuba in their hearts, alive with music but experienced despair knowing they couldn’t return. Given the that latter, Celia chose to rise above it and reached for the Azucar instead! With her bright charisma and ‘electrifying…soulful voice’, ‘she became a symbol of artistic freedom for Cuban American exiles’ she became Cuba for those who could not return. In addition, she was the first female artist to become successful ‘in the male -dominated world of Salsa music’(Christian science monitor). Her popular song entitled, ‘La Vida es un Carneval’, despite the uplifting melody, talks about the ups and downs of life and that no matter what troubles or good times we face, we have to realize that life is a Carnival and that even in the worst of times, we can choose to be uplifted instead of sinking ‘down into the dumps’ of our situation. We can choose happiness, joy, love and generosity, instead of closing ourselves off to the life force. Celia served to bring the world up to a higher vibration with her music so that we could have a bit of Azucar to lift us up.
Celia was sugar to the people of Cuba – and to the world, she embodied passion, evident through her colorful and extravagant stage costumes and outrageous hair styles. Sugar to those she left behind even after her death, continuing her legacy. She won countless awards before and even following her death. She continues to be remembered even now. Schools were opened in her name, sidewalks were named after her, musicals were created about her, dedications have been made to her at the Smithsonian Institute – sugar in her music, to quell those with pain in their hearts, sugar for women and women of colour – being the first woman to make it big in the genre of Salsa. Celia recorded approximately 70 albums, and even acted in several films.