If you’re like me, a second generation Cuban-American, then you had (or have) a grandmother who grew up on the Caribbean island and one day was forced to leave everything behind in search for a more politically stable home. Life experiences like that tend to harden a person, and while growing up, I never saw my grandmother cry — except for the day Celia Cruz died.
I always knew who Celia was, and naturally her songs are like the soundtrack to the memories I hold of my grandparents. Yet, I never knew just how important she was to the Cuban people — especially those from my grandmother’s generation until her death in 2003.
“Se murio mi negra,” was all my grandmother said that day 12 years ago, as she clutched a gently used tissue in one hand and rocked back and forth in her rocking chair.
I had limited time while Cruz was alive to truly experience and appreciate her music and unique sound and, more than likely, today’s generation has even less of a clue who the Queen of Salsa was. With Telemundo’s latest novela, Celia, the network revisits the life and trials of the songstress in an 80-part series, breathing new life into a musical legend.
The first episode aired last night and, in the style of a true telenovela, clued the audience in on a very important aspect of time: The series will begin at the moment of Cruz’s birth in La Havana in 1925 and culminate around the time of her death in New Jersey 78 years later.
After the flash-forward of Celia’s 2002 performance on the Latin Grammy stage — with her skin-tight blue dress and towering blue and white wig — the story settles back to a calm 1950s Cuba where Celia is on the verge of getting discovered. She has a singing audition lined up, and after a night of rebellious clubbing she meets the man who will change her life forever, Pedro Knight.
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You might know Knight as her future manager and husband of 41 years, but in the first episode of Celia, he’s just a horny little musician preoccupied with spreading his seed more so than anything else. Audiences get a sense of just how much of a flirt Knight was when he meets Celia on the dance floor and she asks if he came alone. He responds slyly, “I came to meet you.”
One can only hope that Telemundo fills the nearly 80 hours of programming with details of the singer’s life that even my abuela wouldn't have known. One thing is for certain, after hearing those trumpets, the soft purr of a rolling “r” in azucar, and Cruz belt “Esa negrita que va caminando,” it all brought on a sense of pure nostalgia of a time when running circles around the mango tree in my Tata’s backyard was my only care in the world. I can even smell the espresso brewing and the harina rising in the kitchen.
Celia airs Monday through Friday at 8 p.m. on Telemundo.