Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Booknote: _Celia, Mi Vida_ (2004)

This is simply one of the best books I have read so far this year. I read it in Spanish, but it is widely available in an English edition as well. Readers don't have to be a fan of Celia Cruz, or even of her music, to enjoy the narrative. Celia Cruz tells her own life with spark and lots of azucar. From her humble beginnings in Cuba to her rise to fame around the world, it is an interesting and heartwarming journey. For me, the book was even more enjoyable because I grew up listening to her music. My father is a big fan of hers and of other artists of her time like the Fania All-Stars, so her music was present in my home along with musicians like Ismael Rivera, El Gran Combo, and more contemporary artists like Gilberto Santa Rosa. I could practically hear her voice as I read the book, see the places she tells about, hear the music she sings. I found it interesting that as young girl, she wanted to be a teacher, and a teacher told her that her gift was to sing to the world. Celia always saw the world as her classroom, her "aula" (the Spanish word for classroom). And given how she came to influence so many artists and how she gave them advice, she did have a classroom. But most importantly, she took the music of her dear Cuba to the world, sharing it with the world, bringing us all joy in the process. I was so sad when she passed away; I heard about it, and I remember spending a very sad day at work thinking how the world had lost a great talent, how I had lost a bit of my culture in the process. I am Puerto Rican, but we loved Celia Cruz as much as any of her fans around the world. I say this because reading the end of the book as she is coping with her cancer was moving for me, but also it was not easy, to realize all she went through, and she did it with dignity and grace. She also would give advice to young musicians, reminding them that fame was something that came from the audience. To her, promoters and labels did not pay the salaries, the audience did. The promoters and labels lived off the artist, but the artist lived of their audience. So one had to respect the audience and appreciate them as well as give their best to them. Her exact words are written out at the end of the book, provided in the epilogue.

A curious note. I often write in the blog in between tasks. Focused time in my desk is often rare depending on the day. I went out to the stacks to get the English copy of the book so I could post a small passage here, and when I get there, a student writing a paper on salsa music was there looking for books. I helped locate what he wanted, and we got to talking. I recommended the Celia Cruz book, and I gave him the English edition, but I also turned the Spanish one I had so he could check it out. That way he would have a choice since he said he reads in Spanish. It was curious because what are the odds you will find someone in the stacks looking for items on a topic you just read about and happen to know a bit about? Slim, but in the case, a nice example of serendipity.

Overall, the book is highly recommended.

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