Dulce Maria - Guajira de Covadonga

Candi grew up in Central Covadonga, Cuba, among the sugar fields and green plains of Central Cuba. Music was everywhere in the life of a guajira (country girl) and whether she was listening to her mother play records or dancing to her father playing congas, Dulce (as she was called in Cuba) responded to all things musical. Before she could write she memorized songs from the radio, listening for them to be played over and over again. If she didn’t understand the lyrics she would ask her parents to try and fill in the gaps. In this way she developed her first repertoire, of Cuban Folk Songs, at age six.

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As the Cuban Revolution took hold of the island, Dulce's family was forced to Havana where they lived next door to the Center for Cuban Cultural Studies. Dulce used to press her face up to the fence to hear the songs being learned by the students inside. She was fascinated by the classical sounds coming from voices used in an entirely different way than she had heard before. Maestro Osvaldo Farres, known for compositions including Quizas, Quizas, Quizas, noticed the little girls interest in the music and asked her, "Do you like to sing?" , she answered, "Yes, I sing!". Upon hearing her voice, he went to Candi's parents to ask if he could begin training this "rare and natural talent".

She became known around the neighborhood as "Osvaldo's prodigy". One fateful day while she was out to buy milk for her grandmother, Fidel Castro walked into the bodega to buy cigars. Several of the customers told Fidel, "Comandante, this girl sings!". He asked her to sing something and she sang Suenos de Un Guajiro, a powerful love song for Cuba. He picked her up in his arms and made a speech about children like her as the future of Cuba. Shortly afterwards he called for her to be trained as an Opera singer - in Russia.

For a myriad of reasons, Candi's parents did not want their little girl, then called Dulce Maria, to become "property" of Fidel. As a gesture of protection and hope, they sent Dulce Maria, along with her older sister, Maria, and younger brother, Pastor, to the United States. As part of "Project Pedro Pan", the three children joined 14,000 other unaccompanied minors that came to the United States without their parents. The majority of children entered refugee camps in Miami where, initially, they were to await the arrival of their parents. In the months following, the Cuban Missile Crisis increased the difficulty of travel between Cuba and U.S. While some children were reunited with their parents in a few months, others never saw their parents again. The majority awaited placement in an orphanage or foster care. Candi and her siblings landed in the only place that would take three children at once - a foster home in Long Beach, California.

During the months in the refugee camp, Dulce became the premier performer at the weekly 'talent shows' held to entertain the children. One of these performances was captured in a film that would, many years later, take her back to Cuba for the first time.

In her book "The Lost Apple", Maria de los Angeles Torres, writes about the documentary movie that the U.S. Government hired David Susskind to create about the children’s camps. "The climax of the film is a nighttime variety show. There is opening footage…and then one girl sings a patriotic song. It is Dulce Maria, the girl who would end up in the California home. It is her extraordinary performance, filled with an eerie, almost adult passion, that captures the heart of the audience in the film." She goes on to write, "I remember the first time I saw the film. It was a conference of Pedro Pans…We had swapped stories; it had been an emotional day. We had listened to speakers and I had given a presentation on the origins of Pedro Pan. But we were all left with the haunting memory of this young girl in the film who was only referred to as Dulce Maria. What had become of her?"

She continues, "Then a few years ago a California-based band headed by a Cuban woman performed at Miami's Calle Ocho Festival… Elly [Chovel] approached her and asked if she had been at the camps. Was she in the camps? Did she remember singing at the camps? Did she remember the songs she had sung? Later a group of us met with Candi…She sang the same song for us ­ "Cuba mi patria querida [Cuba, my beloved homeland]." Dulce Maria had become the professional singer Candi Sosa.

Candi Sosa - Cuban Sonera

A tumultuous adolescence followed the stay in the refugee camp. In the years between leaving Cuba and reuniting with her parents, Candi lived in Long Beach, California, where she and her brother and sister attended Catholic school. Here she was asked by the nuns to be the lead soloist in church. Abused by her foster father, separated from other children by a language barrier and wondering when, or if, she would ever see her parents again, music became her primary focus. She took hold of her voice at this point, and never let go. When her parents arrived, three years later, her hopes for a ‘normal’ family life were further abolished. Her father, as a political prisoner, had experienced a psychotic break and the trauma they had experienced during their last years in Cuba made establishing a new life in the USA a monumental challenge.

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Music has been my savior, " she says. "It is my primary expression and deepest meditation. It allows me to be in complete privacy, in the presence and focus of others."

Candi began touring at age thirteen, with a rock band that she formed with her brother and other Cuban kids in Los Angeles. They played Vegas, the Ambassador Hotel, and every high school dance and teen talent show from Glendale High to the Hollywood Paladium to the Coconut Grove.

Eventually Candi went solo, playing gigs with her guitar at 'Don Pepe's'. Her own songs became as popular as the covers that she did and her songwriting ability was awarded at the World Festival of Songs, held at the Shrine Auditorium.

Shortly afterwards she left for Puerto Rico, hoping to find a bit of the island life that she left behind as a child. Candi loved Puerto Rico and the island loved her. She was the featured performer at Hotels LA Concha and Hotel Conquistador. But more important than that, Candi was the performer that other musicians sought out. "We would drive across the entire island to see Candi!" says Daniello of Luna Loca. "If we wanted to hear a variety of music and really good music, there was no one to go see but Candi Sosa."

Working six nights a week, and mostly from 10pm to 4am, Candi developed nodules on her vocal chords. She thought she would never sing again. "I had to completely change the way that I sang," she says. "I had to let go of the image of myself as a singer. I had to accept that I may have to work at a bank the rest of my life." But she never gave up. She found a teacher, retrained herself and found a vocal source that she had not tapped into before. "In a way,", she says, I am grateful for that period. "I did so much work on myself that I can now sing five nights a week and not get burned out. I really learned the difference between being a singer and being a professional musician whose instrument is the voice."

After her time in Puerto Rico, there was a great deal of movement in Candi's life. She spent time working on projects in Miami and Los Angeles; she was the star performer for Princess Cruises; she spent six months performing in Japan; she went to Costa Rica for a year, on exclusive contract with Costa Rica's biggest hotel and nightclub chain, travelling around the country to perform for visiting diplomats and heads of state; she performed a ground-breaking Tropical Music Concert, of mostly original works, to raise awareness for AIDS at the Paris Conservatory of Music.

All the while, Candi made her most regular "home" at La Masia, Los Angeles' first exclusive Latin music venue. On Santa Monica Boulevard, in the heart of West Hollywood, this was the first Latin place that offered fine dining, dancing and live music seven nights a week. Candi started here with her guitar, one night a week, and became the star performer with a full band five nights a week. She is still approached by people who remember her from those days. "Aren’t you the one that used to be at La Masia?!?!"

La Voz de Cuba

Candi soon was asked to sit in on sessions with names like Poncho Sanchez, Paquito de Rivera and Juan Pablo Torres. She played with Andy Garcia and Celia Cruz at "Carnaval Azucar"; she appeared at the Coliseum with Oscar de Leon; she played with Anita O'Day and Eddie Cano at "Jazz on the Hill" she did studio work with Eddie Palmieri and performed and recorded original arrangements with 23-piece H.M.A Jazz Orquestra.

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One of her most treasured memories was captured by L.A. radio personality Hector Resendez: "The Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz, was honored on Sunday, September 25th…Andy Garcia was on hand to present Cruz with the gold medallion. There was an impressive line up of talent…of particular note was fellow Cubana Candi Sosa’s beautiful musical medley of Celia’s most popular hits. Cruz was so inspired that she stood and enthusiastically applauded."

In 1994, Candi self-produced "Cuba, Mi Corazon Te Llama", her first CD of completely original tunes. From this album, Contigo No Quiero Na, with Oscar Hernandez and Andy Gonzales, was listed as one of the best songs of the year by Latin Beat Magazine. Songs Carribean Blue and Sola Naci topped charts in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and places as far as Germany and Argentina.

Candi thought she might settle in Miami, where she was a regular at the esteemed "Tropigala ­ Home of the Stars". But when Alan Geik and Jose Caridad "Perico”"Hernandez, decided to reunite Caravana Cubana for a follow-up album to the Grammy- nominated "Late Night Sessions", they called Candi back to Los Angeles. Candi was brought on as a new member of the Caravana Cubana familia, becoming part of the exclusive group which includes Chucho Valdez, Orlando "Maraca" Valle, Bamboleo, Pancho Quinto and Rolo Martinez. Their album "Del Alma" was released on Warner Latina in 2002.

Full Circle

When the group of Pedro Pans saw Candi performing with Juan Pablo Torres and Paquito D’Rivera at the Calle Ocho Festival in Miami, they had no idea that director Estella Bravo had been similarly captivated by the footage of Dulce Maria. New York-born, resident of Havana and dear friend of Fidel Castro, Ms. Bravo is considered one of the leading documentary film makers of our time. Inspired by David Susskind’s footage, she decided to make a modern documentary about the children of Project Pedro Pan. Dulce Maria, the little girl whose voice captivated the audience, Candi Sosa the professional singer who worked with the "whose who" of the Latin music world, would be her star. It was during this time that Candi had the opportunity to fulfill her life-long dream of returning to Cuba.

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When I picked up the phone and this voice said, 'Candi, how would you like to go to Cuba?', I got chills throughout my entire body. For most of my life I had felt that it would be more possible for me to go to the moon than to return to Cuba.” Yet Candi knew that she would return one day. While most of her years were spent off of the island, Candi’s ancestral roots never ceased calling. She had mastered the English language, she had taken American citizenship, she had lived around the world and spent over three decades off of the island, yet she had always felt 100% Cuban at the core.

In her hit song Llamada Collect, from her completely original and self-produced CD "Cuba Mi Corazon Te Llama" (Dos Coronas, 1996), Candi uses the one phone in the refugee camps to make a collect call from Los Angeles to Havana. The destination of the call? The world famous Tropicana where Candi had longed to sing since hearing about it as a little girl.

When Candi returned to Cuba in 2002, she fulfilled the dream. She performed with Grammy-nominated pianist Chucho Valdez and the legendary Tropicana dancers on one of the world’s most important, and once most opulent, stages.

As she took off her shoes and danced, her music resounded in the hearts of the crowd. They couldn’t get enough of her. As Candi describes it, "I realized the ancestry of my roots, rising from the ground, reaching into my naked feet on the wooden floor of the stage. The earth felt as if it grew from my own body, and I from it. I was transformed: from a Bromeliad - a plant that lives adjacent to other roots - to a Ceiba ­ a holy tree which has most massive roots where legend has it that ancestral spirits reside".

On this dynamic passage she brought the sound that consumes her being back to the soil that gave it birth. "I am you", her inner child exclaimed. "Accept me. I have no agenda. I come only to give you this gift of music, this gift of myself that has traveled so far to reach home".