Song 67 – Burundanga

SONG: Burundanga

ARTIST: Celia Cruz

YEAR: 1956

Listen to it here: 


This song is a mystery. There’s nothing about who wrote it, where it came from, or anything I can find online. It was written by a maestro who was one of Celia Cruz’s music teachers. According to lore, Fidel Castro loved to listen to this song while cleaning his gun. The lyrics to this song are also a mystery, even to native Spanish speakers. It refers to a male-only secret society that came out of Cameroon. The difficulty of finding information about this song is compounded by the fact that now Burundanga is a word used to describe scopolamine, a hypnotic substance. 


Ursula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso was born in Cuba in 1925. She’s generally acclaimed to be one of the most popular Latin artists of the 20th century, and was known internationally as the Queen of Salsa.

Cruz began her career in Cuba, earning recognition as a vocalist of the popular musical group Sonora Matancera. She mastered many Afro-Cuban styles and recorded a ton of singles up until 1960, and the Cuban Revolution. One of the results of this revolution was a nationalization of the music industry. At this point, Cruz left Cuba and became a spokesperson for the Cuban community in exile. She continued her career in Mexico at first, and then moved on to the USA where she eventually decided to settle. 

In the US, she became immediately popular through her collaborations with Tito Puente, and eventually became more well known for her work in the salsa genre. Throughout her career, she recorded 37 studio albums, a ton of live albums, and collaborations. She won two Grammy awards, and three Latin Grammy Awards.


Celia Cruz was allowed to return to Cuba in 1992 where she gave a speech at Guantanamo Bay. She took some soil from her native country back with her, and is buried with that small vial of soil. 


Yaaaay Celia Cruz!  I have one of her records and I really enjoy it, and I enjoy this song too.  I generally enjoy Cuba/Latin American music and the fact I’m writing this on a beautiful sunny day makes me enjoy it even more!  I’ve never been to Cuba, but when I think of Cuba, Havana, and music spilling out from every seam of every colourful colonial building, I imagine it sounds like this.  The band is tight, but relaxed, and Celia has such an ease to her voice, subtly joyful, and crystal clear.  It all seems very simple, but sometimes that’s what makes the best music.  It sounds like the band is just made of horns, congas, piano?  Vibes?  It’s recorded really well too because it sounds like Celia didn’t have to shout or yell over the horn section.  Like it.  


Love it! I’m a big fan of the great tight harmonies and bright sounds of some mariachi-type trumpet, so I was in from the beginning of this recording! Cruz has a really lovely voice and she doesn’t try to compete with the percussion or the trumpets, or the background singers. She also sounds very youthful in this recording. The balance is really lovely, and Cruz accents all these offbeats in a really nice and subtle way. I love how energetic this recording is, with each instrument coming out when it’s their turn! The harmonies in the voices during the chorus are a lot of fun! My only small critique would be that the ending again seems tacked on and not super thought out. But it’s just a small thing. I really like this recording!

Average mark out of 10:

Holly: 8.5/10

Kelly: 8/10

Other notable versions of this song:

Celia Cruz and Lola Flores doing a high 80s energy version:

A Cuban band version:

Listen with us!

Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist:

Link to the Best of the Best 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist:

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