Happy Birthday India, Queen of Salsa AND Freestyle

See the source imageToday is Linda Caballero’s (aka India‘s) birthday, and this blog is my homage to her musical legacy. Most Latin people will remember her for her long, bilingual musical trajectory.

India is Nuyorican through and through. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York, she was from the onset fully bilingual and in every way bicultural, and started her career very young with Freestyle hits like Dancing On The Fire and Lover Who Rocks You. She also later put out the song Love and Happiness, which is an Afro-Latin-House dance song in celebration of the two main Orishas–Goddesses of the Afro-Caribbean religion of Santeria. India has always been devoted to the orishas and to her ancestors, and has always believed in spirits. Her work with Eddie Palmieri included beautiful Santeria chants, and she once claimed that she felt the spirit of Selena while on stage at a concert in her memory.

And so she was already well known in the dance scene before making her entry into the world of salsa under the auspices of Eddie Palmieri–singing Mi Primera Rumba (which roughly translates as “my first Latin jam“) while flashing imagery that included her smoking a Cuban cigar.

Most people who know her today, know her as the Queen of Salsa. This title was conferred upon her by the former Queen of Salsa herself Celia Cruz before she died–naming her the Princess of Salsa in the lyrics of a song they sang together (which, presumably, indicates that Celia saw her as continuing her legacy), and later reaffirmed by Juan Gabriel, who in one interview called her the Goddess of Salsa. And THAT she is … but first, she was the Queen of Freestyle towards the final years of the very prolific era of Latin Freestyle. This era included pop songs that had a Latin beat like Move Out, Clave Rocks, Come Into My ArmsSincerely Yours, Summertime, Come Go With Me, and You Should Know By Now–which featured a very young Marc Anthony in the very early stages of his career. (I’m listing these as a shout-out to all my readers from my generation who want to reminisce!)

(By the way, I’d like to note that the influence of Latin rhythms in American pop music is still there but often very subtle, something of which I was made aware while listening to Robi Rosa’s pop rock song Lie Without a Lover and noticing the underlying Cuban beat–which can be noticed perhaps if one listens to Buena Vista Social Club’s Buenos Hermanos right after or before listening to Lie Without a Lover. Similar Cuban influences in American rock can be found in Santana and others.)

India exploded into the salsa scene twice: first, with Llegó la India vía Eddie Palmieri. Palmieri is a legendary veteran salsa musician from the early stages of the evolution of the genre, when salsa was still emerging out of Latin jazz in New York. I’d describe India’s sound as Latin, urban, fierce, young, soulful, and jazzy, all at once. Palmieri saw India’s inevitable future rise in the 90’s and wanted to bring her energy into the salsa genre. Solitude is from this CD.

She later exploded again–this time, REALLY exploded as an international salsa sensation–with the romantic salsa duet with Marc Anthony Vivir lo Nuestro. Worthy of special mention is her instant classic Jazzin’, which was a collaboration with legendary Tito Puente, and included her cover of Fever and this:

It is rare to find such versatility and fierceness in an artist. It has been rumored that in recent years India has been going through depression and other difficulties, and she had become somewhat of a protégé of Mexican singer Juan Gabriel–the greatest Latin American composer of our generation–before he died. His death greatly affected her. I’m sharing this blog with my followers because I love India, for years she has given me joy with her music, and I love sharing it with others.

About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' and founder of societyofepicurus.com. He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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