October 21, 2013

The First Time I Heard a Celia Cruz Song

If you haven't seen Google's homepage today, they did a tribute to Celia Cruz, because it would have been her 88th birthday today. She is regarded as the "Queen of Salsa".

Which is why this is a good time to share the story of the first time I heard one of her songs.
I was serving a mission for the LDS Church in Guatemala, and I'd been there for around a year.

On a Mormon mission, usually the leadership moves you to a new city with a new companion every 4-6 months. After two months in the Provo MTC, I'd been in the coastal city Escuintla to start (#1); then Boca del Monte, a suburb of the capital (#2); and now I was serving in a mountain city, Sololá (#3).

When we needed to travel farther than we could walk, we'd either hitchhike in the back of a pick-up truck for a small fee, or use the public transportation--otherwise known as the famed "chicken buses".

Beautiful, aren't they?

Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked laying out the background info.

It was a Monday (our one-day-per-week off from proselyting), and my companion and I were riding on a chicken bus down to Panajachel to hang out with the other missionaries and eat lunch together.

Usually the buses play the radio, which was heavily skewed to Los Tigres del Norte, Hermana Shaki (Shakira), and the Brothers Maná, but a song came on during this ride which I'd never heard before. It was upbeat, catchy, and fun, so I asked my companion if he knew the band or who the guy singing was.

Yep, I asked about "the guy" singing.

We got a good laugh when he didn't know but someone sitting nearby informed us that it was Celia Cruz, a woman famous in the Latin music scene for decades.

I heard that song a lot more during the rest of my time in Guatemala, and I always thought of the funny story of when I first heard it. I'd recommend searching for a song or two of hers on YouTube, like maybe "La Vida Es Un Carnaval".

Listening to it now, I can hear clearly that it's a lady, but I guess my ear wasn't tuned quite right that day.

Happy 88th birthday, Celia. RIP, and thanks for the memory!