Iconográfica: La Lupe, The Undeniable Queen of Latin Soul

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Iconográfica is a column that celebrates divas that not only bring it artistically on a regular basis but exude grrrl power in the process. It’s a pop culture exploration of Latin icons with original illustrations and animated gifs by Cristóbal Saez.

Twitter: @PopAesthete

Everyone loves a diva, but when you mix in a little Santería, a little eccentricity, and a hell of a voice, you get the explosion that is Guadalupe “La Lupe” Yoli. Her catalogue encompasses a wide range of Latin sounds, including boleros, guarachas, son, and salsas, and she dominated all of these genres with a bold voice and even bolder stage persona. Born in Santiago de Cuba in the San Pedrito hood, La Lupe quickly rose to fame by booking a headlining show at the infamous “La Red” club in La Habana. Once her debut album—the aptly named “El Diablo en el Cuerpo“—dropped and she did her first nation-wide television performance, all of Cuba was watching La Lupe.

La Lupe was very well known for her exorcism-worthy stage antics that included screams, biting, shaking her band members, hitting herself, and her trademark “yiyiyi” wails. No one ever really knew how much of her clothing she would remove or what could possibly happen next, and it sure kept people wanting more. Some claim that she was actually possessed with some sort of spirit, possibly linked to her Santería roots. But chances are she was just feeling that bolero deep in her soul.

Below is a performance of the Queen of Latin Soul at The Dick Cavett Show, doing her thing (a.k.a. stripping on national TV).

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Due to the ongoing Cuban Revolution, La Lupe was told to turn down the intensity of her shows, and since this was not an option for the strong-willed starlet, she moved to New York City in 1962. Here’s when things get real interesting for La Yiyiyi. She was first discovered by rumba master Mongo Santamaría, but was quickly snatched by bandleader Tito Puente. After four albums and a lot of success in America, Puente and La Lupe ended their partnership with a rocky break up. Puente recorded an album with La Lupe’s ongoing competition, Celia Cruz, and replaced her act on tour with El Lupo (el Yiyiyo), a drag queen impersonator. La Lupe even recorded “Oriente,” in which she wails, “Y yo que le daba todo a mi jefe Tito Puente / Se me fue por la del frente y solita me dejó.” You can check out the track for yourself below.

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After the break up, La Lupe starting managing and producing herself and kept on putting out records that weren’t as successful. In 1977, La Lupe had a one-night-only concert with old pal Puente at Madison Square Garden, where she became the first Latina to sell out the massive venue. Following that concert, La Lupe was met with several setbacks in her life, including an injured spine and homelessness, and she even quit her Santera ways to become a born-again Christian. If that’s your thing, there’s several clips of her singing Christian hymns and giving sermons circulating the Web, but I’d rather just stick with the image of La Lupe at her peak.

Throughout her legendary career, it didn’t matter if she was singing about heartbreak, falling in love, or getting dumped by her partner, she really gave her all in each of her records and performances. Even though she may have been eclipsed by her competition, there is only one Queen of Latin Soul, and that is La Lupe.

Download La Lupe’s Puro Teatro below: