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THAT GENIUS CALLED THE QUEEN
The 1970s marked the beginning of an era of rapid change in America and its music. For Latinos, the genre now known as salsa was the sound that surfaced from the streets of Latin New York. Around the country, people were marching against the Vietnam War while New York was witnessing its first Women’s Strike for Equality down Fifth Avenue. The Women’s Movement was just starting to flex its muscle when rock’s baddest queen, Janis Joplin, was found dead of a drug overdose. For salseros, our bad queen was La Lupe.
Irreverent, outrageous, passionate and already controversial, La Lupe was asked to leave communist Cuba only to first find stardom with Mongo Santamaria and then later, Tito Puente. In this recording, La Lupe is featured as a pop performer on the first half, then reveals her salsa roots on the other. She ends the first side with “Unchained Melody”, singing in a campy, extreme Latino accent that sounds more stereotyped than Goya beans. But La Lupe had previously made Fever her own when she performed it with Santamaria..
“I Did It My Way”, sung in Spanish, is fully orchestrated with lush violin lines, harmonized French horns and downbeat symbol crashes. La Lupe, both artistically and personally, does practically do it her way as you can hear her slide into pitch and fall just a hair flat of the desired note.
At this point, La Lupe was at the height of her diva career, having left the King and forging out on her own. She was appearing on mainstream programs, such as the Dick Cavett Show, but was having difficulty getting steady work. The word was spreading, it seems, that this talented singer was difficult, arrogant and hard to deal with. It is no wonder she was also know as la vampiresa.
“No Matarás” reflects the public turn in opinion towards the war and the times. Her passion is showcased in this tune, especially when she sings of the pain of mothers whose sons are killed in wars, while a quiet electric guitar gently wails in the background.
“Yo Soy Tu Esclava” reminds me of that Puerto Rican sound that Chucho Avellanet, Lissette and Lucecita (pre-activist) Benitez transmitted during their daily show on the Island. It was pop, but it was ‘rican; a very distinctive flavor similar to the love slave addiction La Lupe’s singing about here.
A suave waltz, “Caridad” is a call for human charity. La Lupe embraces the song with soul and fire, bypassing technique for raw emotion.
Then, starting with the pulsing, infectious rhythms of a merengue, La Lupe bursts into hot, tongue twisting words and Latino beats with the start of “Chumba la Chumba”. The frenzy you hear on this song shows the listener how La Lupe can bring the band, the music and herself up into hysterical crescendo where she even mimics Maelo by rhythmically phrasing Maquino Landera and boasting that not even el Sonero Mayor was a challenge for this feisty mama.
La Lupe takes out her vengeance with “Me Vengaré”. Here she attempts to heal her broken heart with a musical vengeance that is both literal and metaphorical. Shouting out to producer Fred Weinberg, the Queen of Soul is pure emotion and wears her heart in her throat. However, for the most part she’s adlibbing to the basic arrangement of the song she wrote. This is a great dance mambo.
Food and recipes prevail in “Menu De Chivo”, and this mambo/Mozambique mixed with Boricua bomba is deliciously appetizing. La Lupe lyrically dances and staccatos, boldly strutting across the musical bars with bravura.
Recalling Iberia, “Amor Que Te Di” brings out the gypsy in La Lupe as in the arrangement evoking the corridors of 15th Century Seville. It proves, however, to be more of a challenge than she can handle, and La Lupe falls flat approaching the finale.
In her usual tribute to the orishas, La Lupe closes with an expertly performed Afro-Cuban, regla de ocha chant, “Moforivale”. Combining Spanish-language verses with an African chorus, this traditional call to the gods fades out the recording bringing La Lupe face to face with a public that was both hot and cold: they either loved to listen to her unorthodox voice and watch her hysterical stage drama or they didn’t care for her at all. Whatever the outcome, you always knew where you stood with La Lupe.
Producer and Engineer – Fred Weinberg
Executive Producer – Miguel Estivill
Coordinator – Willie Garcia
Recorded – A & R Studios
Arranged and Conducted – Joe Cain (“Como Acostumbro / My Way”, “No Mataras”, “Por Caridad”, “Unchained Melody”) Ramón Emilio Aracena (“Chumba La Chumba”, “Me Vengaré”, “Menu De Chivo”, Amor Que Te Di”, “Moforivale”), Osvaldo Estivill (“Soy Tu Esclava”)
Original Album Photos – Hobart Baker
Original Album Design – Izzy Sanabria
Written by Aurora Flores