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Heating things up with spicy Latin tunes Havana native Caridad Cruz packs a powerful punch

Celeste Mackenzie, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Thursday, April 26, 2007, Arts Section, Page 1

To really appreciate Caridad Cruz's music, you have to see her perform live. She's an entertainer, a crowd pleaser. With her powerful voice and no-holds-barred personality, she knows how to get people up dancing and singing along to a traditional Cuban song, Tito Puente's Oye Como Va, or a standard from her famous relative Celia Cruz, the late, great, "Queen of Salsa."

Such was the scene not-too-long ago at Zaphod Beeblebrox, where the Havana native and Chelsea resident and her six-piece band Kubacua performed to a packed house of mostly Latin Americans, along with a good contingent of what seemed to be non-Latins doing their best to move their hips the right way.

It seems other music tastemakers in the area have taken notice as well. Both the Ottawa Jazz Festival and Bluesfest have booked her for their summer lineups, and she plays Barrymore's Music Hall on Saturday night as part of the NAC's Quebec Scene festival.

Kubacua's makeup seemed to reflect the audience: members are originally from Cuba, Mexico, Canada, and the United States. Cruz put the band together in May 2006 after chance meetings and hearing about musicians in the area through word of mouth. Not only is she pleased with the quality of the musicians, Cruz likes their varied backgrounds as well.

Caridad Cruz

"I really like that the band is not just made up of just Cubans, because I'm interested in playing other styles of music, besides Cuban," Cruz said in halting but determined English.

Black Sheep Inn owner Paul Symes says it's taken Cruz a while to get the right band together, but the result at his club has been an audience that can't resist dancing.

"It's the ultimate, when an audience gives energy back through some sort of engagement like clapping, cheering and dancing, and at Caridad's show the audience can't resist the impulse to move," Symes said.

The singer is also part of a jazz and blues trio with Kubacua's guitarist and bassist. They began performing this year, one of their goals being to appeal to a wider audience. These are genres she's already familiar with, thanks to the records of American jazz greats she listened to as a child in Havana. Soon she hopes to sing some standards in both English and French. Composing her own material is another goal.

"I want to write. I've had ideas before, but I never wrote. I've dreamed a lot, but I feel more mature now, so I want to write and find someone who can compose the music," Cruz said.

Carlos Fresquet, a Cuban resident of Ottawa who was at the Zaphod's show, says some original material might just be what Cruz needs to really make a name for herself.

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