Get ready to be schooled, asere. It’s time for a Cuban music lesson! Learn to tell your cha cha cha from your mambo without leaving your couch. Put on your dancing shoes, guayaberas, park your 57 Chevy, light up that Habano, and pay attention.
By Jack Tomas
Music, like wine, is influenced by what’s around it. If there is lavender or apples growing near the vine, the wine will have hints of lavender and apples. Same thing with music. Cuban music, has regularly adapted to its surroundings, which has contributed to its longevity and variety. La Lupe showed this synthesis with the environment in her music. The Santeria of her youth and the 70’s soul of her later years combined to make one tasty sound.
La Lupe was born Guadalupe Raymond in Santiago, Cuba in 1939. Like half of Santiago in those days, her dad worked at the Bacardi factory. I’d work at the Bacardi factory in a second. They got free rum. Anyway, La Lupe’s career was launched in 1954 when she won a chance to sing a cover song of an Olga Guillot song on the radio. Soon after, she started playing around Havana with the big bands of the time. Unlike the virtuosity of Celia Cruz or Omara Portuondo, La Lupe’s singing style is almost conversational, like she is telling you a story in song. She was a practicing Santera and this singing style is similar to the way songs are sung in Santeria ceremonies. Once again, African religion influences Cuban music.
Later, Lupe emigrated to the U.S., where she became involved with the newly developing salsa music 0f the 60’s. Soul music was really popular at the time. Stuff like Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Marin Gaye, and so on. Lupe merged her Santeria singing style, salsa, and soul to make music that is immediately identifiable as hers. The subgenre of salsa she was known for from the 70’s onward was called Latin Soul. Lupe died in 1992, but if you go up to Spanish Harlem you will often hear her music in the background while you are eating your ropa vieja y yucca.