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"She's very good, she's got the right voice for this sort of style, as well as lots of charisma. In Cuba, there are so many great singers that she wouldn't be very original there, but she puts on a great show that's unique for Ottawa. She is already well-known within the Cuban community here, and Cubans like to see her perform. With some original material, she could really stand out one day."

Cruz grew up listening to many Cuban musicians including Celia Cruz (a cousin of her grandmother). She says she's sorry she never met Celia, who left Cuba before her birth and never returned.

"I never met her, but I feel like I knew her. I would have liked to," Cruz laments. There are similarities in their performance style, but Cruz says she'd never even seen Celia on television until she immigrated to Canada in 2003 after marrying Chelsea resident Michael Bein. The two met in 1999 during a show in Havana, and he's now her manager.

Cruz began her professional career in 1993 performing in bars and hotels in and outside Havana with her own group. Just before leaving Cuba, they recorded a CD.

She says it's been difficult restarting her career in Canada while at the same time learning French and English and getting used to everything else that's new for her.

"I want to be famous!" Cruz says with a laugh that, like her singing voice, fills up the room. "But in Ottawa, there are so few opportunities. Many musicians in Toronto ask me, 'What are you doing in Ottawa?' There are so few events. I would like to play in a salsa festival, for example, but that just doesn't exist," Cruz said.

Indeed, Cruz got her first big break in Canada when she met Toronto jazz musician Jane Bunnett at a concert shortly after moving here. An invitation from Bunnett followed to sing in a 2004 Global Divas concert in Toronto broadcast by CBC Radio.

Since then, Cruz has performed in some small clubs in the New York, New Jersey and Montreal, and is getting more bookings in the national capital area. She says appearing at Ottawa festivals is an important signal that her career is on the right track.

"I'm new to Canada, so this is a very good sign," Cruz said. "This give me even more motivation than ever to compose some of my own songs."

Caridad Cruz plays Barrymore's Music Hall Saturday; Comunidad Sagrada Familia, 152 Glenora St., May 19; the Ottawa Jazz Festival June 22 and Bluesfest July 12. Tickets & times for most shows at ticketmaster.ca.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2007

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