The Wisdom of Celia Cruz (Video)

celia cruz

Ed. note: Please click the headline link to see the Celia Cruz music videos

La Sonora Matancera as Life Coach

The other afternoon, my daughter was catching bugs outside while I was cleaning the kitchen. I blasted Pitbull and frenetically worked to his irrestible beat and saucy lyrics.

Then, the 7-year-old walked back in.

I haven’t moved that fast since probably the 7th grade.

“Hey, what was that?” she asked, about my shutting off the music.

“An adult song. What do you need? Water?” I said trying to be cool, and silently cursed myself for getting caught.

And then, I turned up Celia Cruz, the woman whose lyrics I want my daughter to hear, to feel, to live by. The woman whose words, rhythm and story everyone should know.

For decades, La Reina de la Salsa yelled a full-body ¡Azucar! from the stages on which she performed — a confirmation of all that is sweet in life and yet, also in acknowledgement of the bittersweet life hands you.

Celia Cruz is my go-to, both when my spirit feels like celebrating all the sweet I already have and when I need a reminder that life is rich and good, no matter what.

The Cubana embodies a Latina who overcame, thrived, adapted, connected. When I watch videos of her singing, I can see her joy, her zest, even though I know her story is not an exact fairytale.

Her music so represents our Latin people, to me. People who work and struggle and stumble but dust off and achieve, push toward the better — all while laughing and singing and telling chistes. (At least, most).

So, Celia’s body of work is both cultural connection and like an audio meditation book for me. I know just what I need to play on the stereo to get me moving, to get me in gratitude mode, to get me in celebration de la vida mode.

So, with that, here are some of my favorite and most inspirational Queen of Salsa songs that speak to my Latin heart.

Rie y Llora

Lo que es bueno hoy
Quizas no lo sea mañana
He ahi el valor del momento
He ahi el presente perfecto

La oportunidad de llegar
tu veras si te montas en ella
Agarrate fuerte
Y ya no te sueltes

Rie, llora
Que a cada cual le llega su hora
Rie, llora
Vive tu vida y gozala toda

If you don’t speak Spanish, basically, she is saying that what is good today, may not be good tomorrow, and there is the value of the moment, the perfect present. When opportunity presents itself, you’ll know if you grab it. Hold on tight and don’t let go. Laugh and Cry. Everyone has their time.

Is that not sheer poetry and truth? That’s like church and Deepak and The Power of Now all in one.

And, when you watch her sing it, you feel it. You know she’s lived it. (I translated this song for the non-Latinas in Zumba class. They loved it!)

Doing lyric research for this essay, I discovered there are lesson plans for school children based on Celia’s life story. Her life and music teaches children everything from history — Cuban, immigration, music history — to language, arts, and social science.

Celia as role model. Asi es!

La Vida es Un Carnaval

Todo aquel que piense que la vida siempre es cruel,
tiene que saber que no es asi,
que tan solo hay momentos malos, y todo pasa.
Todo aquel que piense que esto nunca va a cambiar,
tiene que saber que no es asi,
que al mal tiempo buena cara, y todo pasa

Everyone out there that thinks that life is always harsh,
Need to know that’s not the case,
That there are just bad times, and it will all pass.
Everyone out there, that thinks that this will never change,
Need to know that’s not the case,
The bad times will turn, it will all pass.

This is the song to whip you out of your pity party. Todo pasa. Everything passes. Put up a good front during bad times because everything passes.

And, when you live long enough, and you’ve stumbled enough, you know damned straight that everything does pass. (Hurrah!) And usually, you end up better and happier on the other side. It’s a life motto, baby. (Check out how my friend, Ana, explained the song to her pre-schooler.)

Hay Que Empezar Otra Vez

Si lloras, si estas sufriendo por un amor que te abandono seguro que dios
Que para ti viene algo mejor, y el que pregona que esta vencido y que la
Vida lo trata mal. Tal vez ha entregado a medias lo grandioso de la amistad

Hay que empezar otra vez
Hay que empezar otra vez lo pasado ya es pasado
Ya lo
Pasao, pisao

Loose translation: Are you crying over a love who abandoned you? God probably had a hand in it. For you, something better is coming…You have to start again, the past is the past.

Word! I expect to play this song for my teen-ager one day.

Yo Vivire, I will Survive.

Celia sings:

Rompiendo barreras, voy sobreviviendo
cruzando fronteras, voy sobreviviendo Para ti mi gente siempre cantaré
te daré mi azucar caramba y sobreviviré
Rompiendo barreras, voy sobreviviendo
cruzando fronteras, voy sobreviviendo
Yo viviré, Yo viviré y sobreviviré.

Breaking barriers, I am surviving; crossing frontiers, I am surviving…I will give you my azucar, caramba…and I will survive!

Ella Tiene Fuego

Ella tiene fuego, cuando mueve las caderas
Ella tiene fuego, tiene un ciclon en las piernas
Ella tiene fuego, es la atraccion de la fiesta
Ella tiene fuego, y todo el mundo pregunta de que esta hecha

She’s got fire when she moves her hips
She’s got fire, has a cyclone for legs
She’s got fire, she’s the attraction at the party.
She’s got fire, and everyone in the world asks what she’s made of.

Honey, this song makes me feel I am made of Azucar y Fuego!

La Negra Tiene Tumbao

Tumbao means rhythm, like from the contageous sound that comes from conga drums.

In this video, Celia wears an orange wig and features a tall naked goddess, who sort of may be a street walker.

The message I get: You don’t have to get old. You can have tumbao your whole life, and not necessarily only if you look like the tall, naked goddess.

Si quieres llegar derecho
Mejor camina de frente
Para que no haya tropiezos
Y venga aquí todo vences.

Si quieres llegar primero
Mejor se corre despacio
Disfruta bien de la vida — carino.
Aunque tomando medidas

La negra tiene tumbao
Y no camina de lao

La Dicha Mia

This song, La Dicha Mia, tells the story one Ursula Hilaria Celia Caridad Cruz Alfonso of Santos Suárez in Havana, Cuba. The song was written by friend Johnny Pacheco.

A Celia video playlist

You can watch 60 videos of Celia and her songs on our YouTube playlist. The perfect musica for working and dancing! Guantanamera is the first song.

Bottom line Celia wisdom

Life is short. Life is tough. Life is hella good.
And, you’re never too old to wear an orange wig.

Y Tu?

What’s your favorite Celia Cruz line?
What other Spanish singers and lyrics inspire you?


Share, por favor!

By Carrie on May 12, 2011 · Posted in featured, the habla habla

15 Comments | Post Comment

Tracy says:

I love several of Cecilia’s songs. “La Vida es un Carnaval” has always grabbed at me a little more than the others. It’s good to turn on and dance to when you’re having a crappy day.
Tracy´s last [fabulousness] ..El Trompo

Posted on May 12th, 2011

Alexandra says:

My eyes are filling with tears at all you say here, about being Latina, facing obstacles and figuring out how to still celebrate and rejoice.

I remember seeing Celia live and up close with my grandmother.

To see a 78 yr old woman that was my grandmother, helpless in moving her hips, is a memory that to this very second, makes a huge grin cover my face.

Yes–life lessons on Celia Cruz.

I never thought of doing that with my 3 boys.

What a fantastic essay.
Alexandra´s last [fabulousness] ..Engagement Story

Posted on May 12th, 2011

Amanda says:

“Bottom line Celia wisdom
Life is short. Life is tough. Life is hella good.
And, you’re never too old to wear an orange wig.”

That right there? My new mantra!

Thank you for this, Carrie. There is no musician, Cuban or otherwise, quite like Celia. Long live the Queen!

Posted on May 12th, 2011

Rosamaria says:

Like Alexandra, I never really thought about Celia the way you have set it out in this great post. I never listened to or read the lyrics before. Only now does it occur to me that it was not just the great rhythms of her music that must have energized my mother, it must have been the lyrics. My mother passed away just 4 months ago after a 15+ year battle with Parkinson’s and in the last few years when she couldn’t get out of her wheelchair without assistance, it was Celia’s music that would energize her and get her out of her wheelchair with a strength she didn’t otherwise normally show, and always with her big huge smile.
(Samantha’s friend)

Posted on May 12th, 2011

Monique says:

I love her lively spirit!!
Monique´s last [fabulousness] ..Boriqua Chicks Celebrity Roundup- Christina Aguilera- Sofia Vergara- Natalie Morales &amp Eva Mendes!

Posted on May 12th, 2011

Margo says:

I LOVE LA CELIA! Since I was a teenager, I’ve always said I wanted to be Celia Cruz when I grow up and I still do. Her music has lifted my spirits in the very darkest moments of my life and her spirit continues to inspire me. My favorite Celia song is “Canto a Lola Flores” because it’s such a beautiful sentiment from one woman to another. And because I was listening to that song right before I found out I was going to have a daughter (who I’d already decided to call Lola, after my grandmother.) This is a very moving tribute-thank you so much for posting!

Posted on May 12th, 2011

Carrie says:

Thank you, Alexandra!
I so love knowing that you get where this is coming from and that you see the power of the lyrics. So glad your abuela loved la Celia!

Posted on May 13th, 2011

Carrie says:

Hella good, baby, Hella good!

Posted on May 13th, 2011

Carrie says:

Margo, if you can’t be Celia, be like Celia! Azucar and all the good stuff.
I love the story about naming your daughter Lola. Que legacy!

Posted on May 13th, 2011

Carrie says:

Rosamaria, so nice to hear from you!

I am so glad I have given you a peek at the lyrics … my guess is your mom heard the words too.

I am sorry for your loss.

Posted on May 13th, 2011

Carrie says:

Definitely the right song for a crappy day!

Hope you’re having a good one, though…

Posted on May 13th, 2011

Tia Mirtha says:

I saw Celia sing at a club here in Miami. I thank my friend Sandy who took me to see her. She was great, sang one song after another. Mi favorita es “Por si no regrezo”. Ella sabia que no regresaria a Cuba viva. Ahora estoy segura que lo ha hecho libremente en espiritu.

Posted on May 14th, 2011

Abuelita says:

Hija,as always a job well done.Gracias

Posted on May 14th, 2011

The Queen of Salsa: Celia Cruz | salsaanyonetoday says:

[...] Cruz advertising shot 1955 La Reyna de SalsaWhen anybody says “salsa singer,” one of the earliest names that springs to min…. She was an authentic human being, an artist excluding boundaries, and although forced to authority [...]

Posted on September 28th, 2011

BellaVidaLetty says:

What a fantastic post. I’m a huge fan of this great legendary woman.

Posted on January 28th, 2012