Rosalia de Cuba is a seductress with rhythm in her veins. She magnetically draws an audience. Encouraged, we clap or parrot a lyric. Heads bob, feet tap, knees are slapped. In our seats, we shift to the beat. Putting her whole self into every number, the charismatic performer pulsates even when not dancing. Her low, sometimes growling vocals exude warmth, passion, infectious joy. Even the band grins. “Tonight I will share the story of my life the only way I can, with music.” Songs arrive in Spanish and English.
Abba’s “I Have a Dream” opens tonight a capella with a few feather light notes. The song is rhythmic, but its intention remains. When Rosalia sings, “I believe in angels,” we believe her.
Fernando Lores, Rosalia de Cuba, Yosmel Montejo, Lidia Cortes
Spanish language selections include a hypnotic “Cuando Calienta el Sol” (When the sun heats up – Rafael Gaston Perez): When the sun beats down on the beach/I feel your body tremble next to mine./It is your heartbeat, your face, your hair—it is your kisses—I shudder. “Candela” (Alvaro Soler/ Nico Santos) made popular here in the film Buena Vista Social Club, lyrics exuberantly fanning out from the stage to every corner of the room: I dance like this, dance like this/Like a candle…And “Mancero” –The Peanut Vendor, one of the first Cuban songs to go platinum.
Ska Cubano’s “Lagrimas negras Babalú,” popularized in the U.S. by Desi Arnaz, is, unbeknownst to most Americans, serious. Rosalia sings in Spanish. A verse translation: Give me a tobacco end mañiengue/And a jug of aguardiente/Give me some money mañiengue/So that I can have good luck… It’s an appeal to Babalú-Aye, a spirit of the Earth associated with disease and death. The long, repeated cry with which we’re familiar is a plea. Vocal powerfully blankets the room as if summoning spirits. Victor Bonet’s trumpet soars. Some translation would be helpful, but the song affects.
“When I became a teenager, my curiosity for music had no limit…secretly listening to radio from Miami (western music was against the law), I discovered songs like this: “At Last”… my love has come along” (Mack Gordon/ Harry Warren) emerges as if gushing water. Muted trumpet glides, then unmasks bright as an eye full of sun. Gospel tone pervades. Parlando makes it personal. “All of Me” (Gerald Marks/ Seymour Simons) Rosalia sings pointing to an attractive fan. “Why not take all of me?” Hips swing, eyebrows rise. Invited up front, the trumpet wails with anticipation; eyes scrunch closed, dimples appear. “Is it too much?” the vocalist teases running her hands down her body. Brass and tambourine take us out.
“I discover Frank Sinatra, but because I can’t sing like him, I put some Cuban beat,” introduces “Come Fly with Me” (Jimmy Van Heusen/Sammy Cahn). Fabulous drummer Daniel Rodriguez has one hand on bongos, one controlling a stick (the second stick’s in his teeth). Gene Krupa, eat your heart out. Rosalia’s arms add emphasis. “Ariba!” She steps and sways. The song bubbles up.
Rosalia de Cuba, Lidia Cortes
“I’m telling you my story. All teenagers want something, the family want another thing. My grandmother never wanted me to be a singer, because I’d be starving…(Still,) she send me an angel to push me.” Bonet eases into “What a Wonderful World” (Bob Thiele/George David Weiss). Lyrics are savored. Brushes circle. “And I think to myself,” she sings finger to temple, “What a wonderful world.” Instead of being trite, it’s touching; instead of growing loud, it’s effusive.
Nina Simone inspired Rosalia. “Feeling Good” (Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse) soars mostly a capella. Melody rolls out seamless with a whoosh. Is there a bellows in her lungs? “…And I’m feeeelin’ good” WHOMP! in comes the trumpet. The performer’s left hand beats time. It’s gorgeous. “When you sing something like this, Rosalia says mopping her brow, ‘You put everything.” Amen.
Vocal Back-up is particularly appealing, a river we yearn to ride.
My single caveat is that some of the Spanish songs might be partially in English to make them more accessible.
Fernando Lores- MD/Piano, vocal back-up
Yosmel Montejo-Bass, vocal back-up
Victor Bonet- Trumpet
Daniel Rodriguez- Drum and Conga
Lidia Cortes- Vocal back-up, Coro, Maracas
Opening Photo – Rosalia de Cuba and Victor Bonet courtesy of the artist
Rosalia is the Artist in Residence at The Carlyle’s sister property, Las Ventanas al Paraíso, a Rosewood Resort in Los Cabos, Mexico. She played only two nights in New York. With hopes they’ll bring her back…
76th and Madison Avenue – Always a treat