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Xiaomara Laugart ready to party at Festival Cubano

XiaomarLaugart is among lineup for this weekend’s Festival Cubano Riis Park.

Xiaomara Laugart is among the lineup for this weekend’s Festival Cubano in Riis Park.

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4th annual
Festival Cubano

♦ Friday through Sunday

♦ Riis Park, Fullerton at Narraganset

♦ Tickets, $5

♦ Visit

Updated: August 1, 2013 5:37PM

Xioamara Laugart believes in the Celia Cruz philosophy of life: “La vida es un carnaval.”

That’s the title of a sig­nature song for Cruz, the Cuban-born “La reina de la salsa,” who died a decade ago at age 77, and was an international sensation from the ’50s, as the lead singer of La Sonora Matancera, to the ’70s with the Fania All-Stars, to the late ’90s, when she peaked again with hits such as “La Vida Es Un Carnaval” and “La Negra Tiene Tumbao.” Laugart, also a Cuban native, knows Cruz well; she portrayed the Latin music icon in the touring Broadway musical “Celia: A Musical Journey.”

“Life IS a carnival,” said Laugart with a throaty laugh. “We are Latinas, we like to party. It’s funny, I don’t do drugs and I don’t drink, and I have been married to the same man for years. But I still like to party!”

Laugart will be in full fiesta mode when she performs Sunday with Alfredo de la Fe and the Cuban All-Stars at the fourth annual Festival Cubano at Riis Park. Also booked for the fest are salsero Jerry Rivera, the group Timbalive and the Cachao Mambo All-Stars.

To honor the 10th anniversary of Cruz’s death, Laugart will sing several standards associated with her such as “Quimbara,” “El Manisero” and “Guantanamera.” She also will perform selections from her two solos discs released by Chesky Records and from days with the New York-based Latin fusion group Yerba Buena.

Though she portrayed Cruz for three years in “Celia,” Laugart met her only once. “I was introduced to her after a performance in Central Park [in 2002],” she recalled. “It was before I had the proposal to do the Broadway play. So I really didn’t get to know her in person. To prepare for the play, I just talked to the people who knew her, and I read a lot about her. We are both black, Cuban, with loud voices and laughs. It wasn’t too hard to play her.”

Laugart looks back with fondness at her time in “Celia.” “We created this experience like a small family, that was fabulous,” she said. “To perform with the musicians knew her and had played with her, I will keep that with me for always. She never learned English, but look at how her voice and name is known around the world. It proves that music is the universal language.”

Though they shared the same homeland, Laugart did not hear Cruz’s music while growing up in Cuba. “That was not possible because of the embargo,” she said. “I met her music here.” When Castro took power in 1959, Cruz left for Mexico and then the United States, and in Cuba, her recordings were essentially banned.

Laugart, who came to the States in 1998, experienced a similar situation. Though she recorded 15 discs in Cuba, none were picked up for global distribution. “Celia couldn’t come back to Cuba,” she said. “That happened to me, too.”

Cruz left Cuba for political reasons, but Laugart departed primarily for artistic purposes. “I needed to spread my wings,” she said. “I sing everything, like boleros, of course, but I always challenge myself. I even have sung rap. I recorded with [the New York rock-rap trio] Fun Lovin’ Criminals and [jazz pianist] Jacky Terrasson. There are all these projects I would like to try. I have been very lucky.”

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