Arts: Theatre: Havana got news for you

SIX MONTHS shy of her 70th birthday, Celina Gonzalez is the hot rockin' mama of Cuban country, a diva who had her first hit, the timeless Santa Barbara, 50 years ago and who arrives on our windswept shores trailing international awards.

This show heralds the release of Desde La Habana Te Traigo, her first album in 10 years. That's not to say she hasn't been busy - she's fitted in performances with a cast of thousands. But Gonzalez, born in the remote village of Matanzas, preserves a certain disdain for the glitz of showbiz and a fiery Latin temper to go with it; when RCA Victor kept bugging her to sign with them, she finally barked: "Aren't you the label with the little doggie as a logo? Well, you can take that dog, cook it up and eat it."

Gonzalez's voice is embattled with years of experience; and she uses it to tell stories of the peasant life she knew. Nevertheless, this was a party night and they were tangoing in the aisles. Many songs came from the new CD, a representation of Girl Power that knocks Geri Halliwell into a pair of fishnets. So we had the heady A la Reine del Mar, dedicated to Yoruba sea goddess, and El Rey Del Mundo, a sprightly mariachi strut inspired by Chango, mythical warrior queen of thunder and a woman who clearly knows how to have a good time.

The deeply romantic Yo Soy tu Amigo serenades the lover; Cita en el Platanal is a sexy samba set in a banana grove every peasant would traditionally plant and which young lovers traditionally find the most inspiring place for illicit trysts.

A tiny woman of Piaf-like proportions, in red flounces and embroidered shawl, Gonzalez performs amid a sea of testosterone, flanked by her six- strong band of swarthy caballeros; to her left is her son, and on congos her gangly grandson. The music is wild and organic, but it's the diva's voice that carries the show. You can hear why Gonzalez stresses the importance of the decima, a 10-verse rhyme with a precise count of syllables. This melody transforms the voice into a searing instrument, around which Creole guitars and flaring trumpets career. Rain-soaked Londoners were transported to the steaming streets of a fiesta on the Gulf of Mexico. Not everyone can do this.


This review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper.

Glyn Brown