100% Azucar!: The Best of Celia Cruz con la Sonora Matancera
Female singers are abundant in Latin pop, but for whatever reason, salsa has remained a male-dominated idiom. From the 1950s to the mid-'90s, salsa's most prominent female vocalist has been Celia Cruz, a pearl of a singer rightly exalted as "the Queen of Salsa." This excellent CD focuses largely on the recordings she made with la Sonora Mantancera in her native Havana, Cuba, in the 1950s. La Sonora was already one of Cuba's top dance bands when Cruz was hired to replace singer Myrta Silva in 1950, and her passionate performances on such classics as "Ritmo, Tambo y Flores" (1951), "Burundanga" (1953), and "Melao de Cana" (1953) made it clear that she was the right choice. For even casual salseros, "Mi Sonito" (1955), "Me Voy a Pinar del Rio" (1956), "Chango Tá Veni" (1958), and other gems on 100% Azucar! are essential listening. Azucar! also contains a handful of recordings made in the early to mid-'60s in New York, including an excellent version of Ignacio Piñeiro's "Suavecito" (1962). With Cuba under communism, Cruz and her husband, Sonora trumpeter Pedro Knight, made a permanent move to the U.S. in 1961. 100% Azucar! isn't quite the last word on early Cruz -- where are "Cao Cao Mani Picao" (1951) and "Tumba la Cana, Jibarito" (1960)? Nonetheless, it can serve as a fine introduction to her legacy.