La Vida Es Un Carnival
Happy Hispanic Heritage Month! As part of the celebration, I am reflecting on Celia Cruz’s salsa classic, La Vida es Un Carnival. This song could be an anthem for anyone pushing through challenges over the past years. It’s a simple rhythmic 4/4 beat that motivates: “Just. Keep. Go. -Ing!” With each downbeat: on one foot in front of the other, one task in front of the other: do the dishes, go to the meeting, get the children, put them to bed. 1-2-3-4, and add some trumpets for flare.
Todo aquel que piense que la vida es desigual
Tiene que saber que no es así
Que la vida es una hermosura, hay que vivirla
Todo aquel que piense que está solo y que está mal
Tiene que saber que no es así
Que en la vida no hay nadie solo, siempre hay alguien
These lyrics are especially interesting in the context of who is singing the song, and when in her life it was released. Cruz released this song as the lead single for her album Mi Vida Es Cantar in 1998. It became one of her most popular songs ever released. She was 73 at the time! Her stage of life makes these lyrics feel so much richer when she sings them. During hard times it’s reassuring to hear this reminder that life is beautiful (la vida es una hermosura) from someone who has lived through as much as she had by the time she sang this wisdom. Celia Cruz was born in 1925 in Havana, Cuba. She began her career just as World War II was ending and the Cuban revolution was beginning. She performed throughout the US during segregation and during the Civil Rights era. And from that experience she sings, Todo aquel que piense que la vida es desigual tiene que saber que no es así, que la vida es una hermosura, hay que vivirla! Translation: “everybody who thinks that life is [bumpy or unequal, the translation could be a few things…] needs to know that’s not so. Life is a beauty, and you need to live it.”
I don’t think she means to say that everyone has it the same. My sense is she’s saying that a greater power equalizes us as humans in the grand scheme of things. In a later chorus she mentions a higher power in life (Dios esta con el). Even though her famous catch phrase was Azucar! (Sugar!), this message doesn’t feel sugar coated. I hear a message to keep going, find your strength, and find your inspiration. Life is a liminal festival that we can enjoy through living it.
In the past years many of us have recognized that living fully is not just about our outer lives. You don’t have to literally travel to a Carnival festival to enjoy life as a carnival. In the past years, so many of us were challenged to more deeply develop our inner life. Many of us were challenged to better understand ourselves and others. And many of us were challenged to learn and process more history.
In March of this year, Cuban-American singer, Camilla Cabello, released her single Bam Bam, featuring Ed Sheeran. If I am understanding music, I’m pretty sure this song is a nod to Celia Cruz and her famous song. The 4/4 time signatures and the “that’s life!” message are the same. Mid-song will hear Cabello shout Cruz’s signature phrase “Azucar!”