La Lupe

1 Sep

I found this amazing video of La Lupe singing in a church. She is still the same!

Below an except of my thesis, “WOMEN IN SALSA”, in which I was also analyzing her performance style……

     La Lupe

Guadelupe Victoria Yoli, who was better know as La Lupe or La Yiyiyi, was born on December 23rd 1936 in Santiago de Cuba, and died on February 29th 1992 in the Bronx, New York. Contrary to the huge amount of biographical information about Celia Cruz, little is known about La Lupe’s early life. This lack of documentation and the silence about her career made La Lupe a mystic figure (Aparicio & Valentin-Escobar, 2004: 84). What is known is that her singing career started in Cuba, where she was, apart from being an elementary teacher by obligation, performing with a trio called Los Tropicuba that played in various clubs. Soon the other two members did not agree anymore with her singing and style of performing. Even though the band split, La Lupe continued to perform in clubs. From the beginning on, she divided her public in two parts: one that loved her, and one that could not stand her (Ayala in Boggs, 1992: 116).

She is remembered for her extreme performances, and the term Lupismo, which will be explained in the following section, was created in order to describe her way of performing. Lupismo was however inacceptable for the revolutionary government of Cuba, and consequently La Lupe had to leave the island in 1961.

She moved to New York, where she at once became celebrated as the Queen of Latin Soul. La Lupe performed and recorded with Tito Puente which brought along a growth in popularity. It was important for her that people knew that he did not create her. “I have my own talent. But he was instrumental in my becoming famous here. The man had faith in me” (Aparicio & Valentin-Escobar, 2004: 90). It was however the same Tito Puente that made her disappear from the music scene when he fired her in 1968.

What is intriguing is the reality that, contrary to Celia Cruz, La Lupe is usually not acknowledged for her contributions to Salsa music (Aparicio & Valentin-Escobar, 2004: 91). As Richie Perez, who was a member of the Young Lords movement [1] said in an interview in 1996:

La Lupe was something else. Aside from the fact that women never got that much of a play in Latin music, La Lupe had already gone down when this music [Salsa] was coming up … By the mid sixties she was gone already, she was not prominent.  (Aparicio & Valentin-Escobar, 2004: 91)

Some musicians described her having been more of a performer or entertainer than a skilled singer. As la Lupe was clearly not recognized as singer, she was overlooked in the historical development of Salsa. Her exclusion from the Salsa history can also be explained by her aggressive behavior on stage, (Washburne, 2008: 159) which will be explained below. Aparicio believes that the fact that she “transgressively eroticized herself as a feminist act of resistance” (Aparico, 1998: 183) was the reason for her neglect.

What was Lupismo? [2]

Washburne (2008: 159) calls La Lupe the chusma diva par excellence. José Esteban Muñoz (cited in Aparicio & Valentin-Escobar, 2004: 85) explains that chusmería finds its origins in the Caribbean bourgeoisie. A chusma was a person belonging to the working-class and whose behavior, style and way of talking did not correspond to the upper-class manners. La Lupe’s chusma was articulated through her “subversive sexuality, (…) songs about illicit love, drinking, nomadism, and lack of social status” (Aparicio & Valentin-Escobar, 2004: 85), a demonstration of a displaced and bohemian identity.

La Lupe is remembered for her excess while performing. It is worth citing the following quote of Guillermo Cabrera Infante who remembers a performance of La Lupe at La Red he attended:

The woman would hit and scratch herself, and later bite herself, her hands, and her arms. Unhappy with this musical exorcism, she would throw herself against the background wall, hitting it with fists and with one or two movements of head, she would let loose, literally and metaphorically, her black hair. After hitting the props, she would attack the piano and the pianist with a new fury. All of this, miraculously, without stopping her singing and without losing the rhythms of the warm calypso that she transformed into a torrid, musical zone. (cited in Aparicio & Valentin-Escobar, 2004: 85) 

La Lupe’s performances were marked by self-eroticized, stripping acts, moments of possession or ecstasy, which were linked both to drug abuse and Santeria[3] experiences (Aparicio & Valentin-Escobar, 2004: 83).  Next to her unusual style of performing, La Lupe owned a very sultry voice, which she used to scream on and off-stage (Boggs, 1992: 117). Contrary to Celia Cruz, she emphasized her erotic movements with tight and revealing clothes, in order to cause a sensation (ibid.: 116), and a make-up style normally associated with prostitutes (Aparicio, 1998: 182).

Muñoz talks about this specific behavior of mixing both female (visual) and male (gestural) attributes, and calls it being “between well-known stereotypes of male and female essences(cited in Washburne, 2008: 162, emphasis in the original). However, most scholars (Aparicio, 1998; Negron-Muntaner, 2007) would agree that La Lupe’s style of performing has to be recognized as ‘feminine’, which includes in its descriptions terms such as desiring, hysterical, and impossible to contain (Aparico, 1998: 108, hyphens in original).


[1] The Young Lords were formed in 1959 in Chicago by Latin American immigrants (Ogbar, 2006: 154). They started as a group defending themselves against enemy gangs, that surrounded them, but in 1967, they realized that they should organize more beneficial actions. This led to an opposition to street violence and a peace treaty that was signed by all surrounding gangs (Ogbar, 2006: 156). On July 26th of 1969, a new section of the Young Lords was founded in New York.

[2] Both, video example 4 and 5 are illustrating La Lupe’s style of performaning

[3] Santeria is a syncretic religion spread all over the Carribean region. The word Santería can be translated from Spanish as the “Way of the Saints” (wikipedia.org).

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