A documentary-performance airing at 8 p.m. Thursday on WPBT2, offers a glimpse into Albita's musical world -- a primer on her vast talent, knowledge of Cuban music and song selection.
``Toda Una Vida - Cuban Masterworks'' or ``A Lifetime: Cuban Masterworks'' is an intimate and lively one-hour look at what makes the Grammy-award winning Albita Rodriguez tick. It is the work of local award-winning director/ producer Joe Cardona, who often tackles Cuban exile projects. The independent filmmaker has done documentaries on the Operation Pedro Pan children exodus and the Freedom Flights, and on another iconic Cuban singer, the late Celia Cruz.
The Cardona documentary is a perfect fit for fans of Albita, who hosts her own Sunday night Emmy award-winning television show on Spanish-language station Mega TV. Others less familiar with her work will be surprised to see how songs pour effortlessly from her. She seems to sing as easily as she walks and talks, even though during the two-day shoot she took ill and had to be hospitalized suffering from a throat infection.
The set-up is simple and reminiscent of an unplugged performance. Cardona places the singer in a cozy Miami studio and surrounds her with musicians as she stands, barefoot, singing into a filtered microphone. Cardona laid down a circular camera track on the wooden floor, allowing the camera to encircle Albita and capture her from multiple angles as she belts out some soulful lyrics.
The simplicity of the setting gives the documentary much of its power as it intertwines a singing Albita with a revealing interview with the songstress -- accompanied by English subtitles. Her knowledge of Cuban music is impressive.
Born Albita Rodriguez in Havana, Cuba, Albita grew up around musicians. Both her parents were popular musicians in Cuba, singing punto, guajaro, a simple Cuban style of music. Her early childhood toys included bongos and claves.
She began her musical career performing throughout Havana, in nightclubs and for concerts. She made her television debut on Cuba's variety show, Palmas y Canas. The inspiration for her songs came from her own personal experiences as well as what was happening in Cuba at the time. Her first Cuban release in 1988 was on the Egrem record label. The hit "Habra Musica Guajira" (There Will Be Guajira Music) recounts her mission to recreate the sounds of authentic Cuban music. Another hit on the album, titled "Son de Tahurete" recounts the period during which Cuba was fighting for independence with Spain. The type of music Albita has identified herself with throughout her career is son, a mixture of African and European musical styles.
In 1992 Albita furthered her musical career by traveling to Colombia. With her manager Miriam Wong, Albita signed a four-year contract to record and perform in Latin America performing concerts. Her song "Hoy No Voy A Trabajar" ("Today I'm Not Going to Work") was among the hits that made her an international star. Cutting short her stay in Latin America, Albita went to Mexico in 1993 and continued on into the United States.
Albita's stay in the United States has produced much success. Her career began in the restaurant Centro Vasco where such musicians as Madonna and Gloria Estefan came to see her. In 1995 Albita released her first US album titled No Se Parce a Nada (Unlike Anything Else). She released her second album on the Crescent Moon/Epic record label. Titled Dien Que, the album combines traditional Cuban styles, as well as Baroque and African styles. Her songs are still written from her personal experiences. The song "Dien Que" is a reflection of her Cuban heritage using vocabulary and phrases that are unique to the Cuban way of speaking. During her first year on tour in the United States, Albita opened for the Cuban jazz musician Arturo Sandoval. The two began a musical friendship. He performed trumpet for the song "Hoy No Voy A Trabajar." Her tours in the United States mainly center around Miami because it "has the most prominent and influential Cuban community in this country," according to Albita.
Albita chose her musical style with her homeland in mind, singing of the traditions and yesteryear of Cuba. Her music not only appeals to young listeners for its upbeat style but also to older audiences because of the messages her songs convey
Click here to get the DVD of Toda Una Vida.
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