India's Moment

Celia said: Keep your shoes on

Sitting down to a lunch of chicken soup and lechon (roast pork, Puerto Rican style), Latin music sensation La India, dubbed the Princess of Salsa, speaks of her latest triumph, the Latin Grammy-nominated album Latin Songbird: Mi Alma y Corazon, in her native San Juan.

"I'm celebrating my success," she says, flanked at lunch between her best friend and her long-time hairdresser. "I feel like a bird. I'm exotic and wild and sweet and, above all, musical."

Since sparking her career in the gay clubs in New York City, the Bronx-bred NuYorican siren began attracting high-profile audiences with her fiery street style tinged with the sweetness of Ella Fitzgerald and the emotional combustion of La Lupe. The early gigs lured Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, and the queen herself, Celia Cruz, to India shows uptown.

Soon, India was singing salsa and setting her course on becoming a music legend. It didn't hurt that she surrounded herself with salsa royalty. Her first Latin album, Llegó La India (via Eddie Palmieri) unleashed her fiery sound to the Latin world, and she hasn't turned back. She then recorded Jazzin', a collection of standards with Puente producing and featuring the Count Basie Orchestra.

She credits much of her success to her contrasting musical heroines. At one end is La Lupe, the tortured diva who was known for tearing her clothes in performance, pummeling herself, and throwing her shoes in passionate fits, and at the other end, Santa Celia, who won adoration with her warm and easygoing style.

"They both are a part of me," India confesses. "I have a wild side to me, but I can also be very sweet."

Tough or tender, India heeds her godmother Celia's advice.

"She told me to keep my shoes on, smile, and keep partying," India recalls. "She always said laugh and celebrate and forget about the negative."

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