Human Flower Project

‘Ritmo, Tambo’ y Flores’

Transported to a Caribbean garden by horns, flowers, drums, and a voice—we remember Celia Cruz.

imageCelia Cruz

Queen of Salsa

Photo: via David Byrne

“Tu Voz!”

Your voice, Celia Cruz. What an instrument, what a trumpet flower!

The late Cuban singer did more to spread the radiance of Latin music than anyone we know of—or can imagine. The one and only time we heard her live was at “La Noche Latina” preceding the New Orleans Jazzfest (1988?). In the ballroom of a riverboat anchored in the Mississippi, Willie Colon and his band opened, then wizard of percussion Tito Puente took the stage for several numbers, and finally Celia was ushered in, dressed in shiny aquamarine.

The crowd sighed in reverence and screamed with elation before “The Queen of Salsa,” shouting their requests from the moment she picked up the microphone. Flashing the gap in her immense Martha Rae smile, she bowed and, one by one, sang every number they asked for. Celia wasn’t just a performer, she was a provider!

Yo soy jardinero

hago milagros de amor

Yo soy jardinero

hago milagros de amor

Soy la sonrisa del alma

y el perfume de la flor

ritmo tambo’
y flores

ritmo tambo’, tambo’ y flores.


From Medellin, Colombia’s 2003 Feria de las Flores, an entry in Los Silleteros parade, dedicated to Celia Cruz and her husband Pedro Knight

Photo: Dominic Ludin

If you’ve never heard Celia Cruz before—or if you’d like three minutes of pick-up—here, backed by La Sonora Matancera, is a blazing place to begin, a human flower project.

I am a gardener.

I make miracles of love.

I am a gardener

I make miracles of love.

I’m the soul’s smile

And the fragrance of the flower.

Rhythm, drums, and flowers,

Rhythm, drums, drums and flowers….

Forgive the club-footed translation of Joseito Vargas’ beautiful, syncopated boast. It was one of many hits Celia had with La Sonora Matancera, the most enduring popular orchestra in history (so says the Guinness book). The group’s signature sound was its trumpet harmonies, trading verses with Celia’s just-as-strong contralto.

Las flores de mi jardin

las dedico para ti

azucenas y gardenias

y perfume de aleli…

(The flowers of my garden

I dedicate to you:

Lilies and gardenias,

And sweetness of wallflowers…)

Yes, “aleli” translates to “wallflower.” No wonder salsa music didn’t originate in England.

imageCelia Cruz, in action at Madison Square Garden, 1994

Photo: Bernardo Tapia, courtesy of Omer Pardillo-Cid/Celia Cruz Foundation

Celia was La Sonora Matancera’s lead singer for 15 years, before, through, and after the Cuban revolution when Fidel Castro came to power.

With her husband, trumpeter Pedro Knight, she defected to the U.S. in 1960, and both became U.S. citizens. They settled in New Jersey and traveled the world (except for Cuba, which banned her from performing), “sowing” the love of salsa.

Un jardinero lleno de amor

siembra una flor y se va

otro viene y la cultiva

de cual de los dos sera

(A gardener full of love

Sows a flower and goes away.

Another comes and tends it.

Whose flower would that be?)

Thanks to Phil Ardery for translating this elusive last line. He writes, “The meaning here of the questioning lyric (my inference) is like that of the question of paternity in a situation where the lover in a brief coupling relationship is the biological father and a different man—typically the mother’s longer-term mate—is the nurturing father. ‘Whose child would that be?’”

Who indeed? But how suggestively and mysteriously it’s asked, in keeping with the bold yet dreamy spirit of Celia’s music.

The voice of Billie Holiday (another gardenia lady) uncurls like smoke and saxophones. We love her. But we love Celia more. She’s earthy as a bucket of roses. She rings and shines like the bell of a trumpet.

(Here’s her Mango Mangue, golden and very juicy!)

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 07/23 at 04:32 PM


I am so happy to have happened upon your beautiful garden here in cyberspace.  Thank you for creating such a place to gather.  Green Blessings!

Posted by herbaloo on 07/24 at 01:15 PM

What a treat you stopped by, and on a music day here. Please keep in touch.

With thanks,

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 07/24 at 02:55 PM
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