This 2001 collection, released two years before Celia Cruz passed away, shows the singer in one of her earliest incarnations. Cha-chas and mambo find their way into the mix here, and the whole is defined by an old-school Afro-Cuban vibe that vividly conjures pictures of sharply dressed dancers cutting a rug circa 1950s Havana. The recordings themselves bear the sound quality characteristic of that era, but are no less charming for that, and the music is incendiary enough to burn through any shortcomings in fidelity.
Cruz's crisp, exuberant performances and sultry croon are as spot-on here as they were in her recordings of the '70s and '80s, and her backing bands, which feature a host of blaring horns and polyrhythm-focused percussionists, are always top quality. Mid-tempo numbers ("Espinita") alternate with high-octane numbers ("Caramelos") that practically dare listeners not to get up and dance. At once earthy and elemental, yet refined and sophisticated, this is classic Cuban music of the first order.