For this year’s Icons & Influences issue, we asked 10 artists to pay tribute to the women who have shaped their sound, set an example and inspired them to break down barriers. Puerto Rican reggaeton pioneer Ivy Queen talks about the bugle call she heard in the historic voice of salsa legend Celia Cruz.
In each interview I’ve ever done, the person I always call my biggest influence is Celia Cruz. To me, Celia had a completely unique and distinct voice, and her look was spectacular. She was a woman surrounded by men at Fania Records—and when Celia made her grand entrance, all the men had to bow because Mother had come in to take over.
The tone of his voice – there will never be an answer. It’s something I’ve always identified with, because at the start of my career, there were no music videos, and it took a while for people to realize that I was a woman. My voice was always raspy and strong – later, once people saw the attitude, the braids and the nails, they understood the whole combination. But at first they thought I was a man. I was like, “Oh my God, why are they telling me I look like a boy?” Then I realized it was my signature. Celia taught me that having a unique, particular voice is a gift.
The Fania All-Stars did a concert in Africa, and I have it on DVD. I watch everything the weather. I love that moment when Celia takes the stage with those spectacular heels and a spectacular dress and her stunning wig. She begins to sing “Quimbara”, and all the men grab their mics and line up behind her to sing backup vocals. Héctor Lavoe, Cheo Feliciano, all move into corners so Celia can fully enjoy her moment. For me, it is the maximum sign of respect. This DVD will one day go to my daughter. I want her to know the women who gave their all to pave the way for the music industry.
“Quimbara”, of course, is one of my favorite songs. I had to sing it at a tribute concert we did for her in Miami, and I was so nervous – you don’t want to mess it up. I will never sound like Celia, ever, but I wanted everything to be flawless, the visuals to be the best. As soon as this song starts, just hearing the tone of his voice, the drums, it turns on my African and Caribbean roots. It’s gonna be my song forever.
Celia was an icon who transcended the barriers of time – and of life itself. They just made a Barbie doll of Celia Cruz. His legacy is untouchable. Everyone talks about her. She is iconic. If you name major women artists in the world, Celia is always there. She had so much impact – not just because of her voice, but because of the way she fought back, how she struggled because of her color, because of her appearance.
Her influence is felt even though she is no longer with us. There are avenues and streets with Celia Cruz’s name on them. Her story is about resistance and love, and it’s really beautiful.