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019. ¡azúcar! our queen, celia cruz

*this is an automated transcription, please excuse typos and mistakes!

[00:00:00] Fryda: Hey, Carmen.

[00:00:09] Carmen: Hey Fryda. What's up?

This is an episode about Celia Cruz.

Didn't get the hints that Carmen was so stealthily dropping.

So they were talking about a national treasure and that is the San Diego international treasure and international treasure. You're welcome world for giving you. We gave you Celia Cruz.

[00:00:41] Fryda: We take credit for it.

And we take after the fact full creations later, even though her talent and her current. All her. All right. Folks say, let grows. There are some of you that will know exactly who we're talking about. And for those of you on lucky people who do not know who Celia Cruz

[00:00:57] Carmen: is, celia Cruz is your mom in Celia.

Cruz is your aunt at the nausea. When a party Celia Cruz is the queen of. She wore big wigs, crazy makeup, always colorful

[00:01:11] Fryda: sound is out of this world. She was unapologetic. She was a God in the Pantheon of Cubanity

[00:01:20] Carmen: I, and our notes for this episode that if Cuba had a Mount Rushmore, it would be like . And then right next to him, it would be Celia Cruz and fill in the blanks of all of your other.

[00:01:33] Fryda: Yeah, because we're getting to them and Celia Cruz is. Both the larger in life and incredibly humble. She was known for being humble. Celia Cruz was an artist, a musician, a singer, a performer who cut her teeth and Lavanya and Cuba, and eventually moved to New York to New Jersey and grew to an international stage.

And we're going to talk about that trajectory and what she has meant for not just Cubans, but Latino people. And. Afro Cubans and Afro Latino folks.

[00:02:09] Carmen: Celia Cruz was actually born on October 21st, 1925 in la Habana,

[00:02:16] Fryda: oh my God. side note my mom's middle name is de la caridad so they have that in common. So thrilled about that. The other note is she was born in la Habana and La Habana was a center of performances and like wild stories of Cuba.

And of course the Capitol. And so later on, that becomes relevant, but she has very humble beginnings. Her dad was a railway station. Her mother was a housewife who took care of her extended family, her 13 siblings. And I think that when we've seen interviews of Celia Cruz, she's a very. Motherly giving figure.

And she's also someone who is always talking about her family.

[00:03:01] Carmen: So she began singing in cabarets as a teenager. Remember, we're talking about, um, her coming up as a teenager in the 1940s at this point when she would have begun performing in cabarets and Lawanna, and it's really important to talk about what was going on at the time, because.

Three Castro revolution and Cuba was a big party scene. And so there were many opportunities for her to go around singing, but unfortunately her father really thought that she shouldn't be a performer. I'm pretty sure that at the time he's looking around at the scene and he does not want his daughter involved in this, you know, live fast, die young sex party, drugs and rock and roll.

You know, no rock and roll quite yet, but I'm sure he doesn't want his daughter running around with this sort of crowd. And so she actually began studying in university to become a teacher. At some point, one of her teachers while she was in school, studying literature to become a teacher, one of her teachers told her that she could make a lot more money as a singer.

And so she decided to quit and start studying music and she studied music, voice and piano at Havana's national conservatory of music.

[00:04:12] Fryda: That's a pretty promising trajectory in one of the interviews. And we listened to so many interviews and God, it's a delight to hear her talk about her life and her upbringing.

And like when she was a baby, she says she would sing everywhere that she went, she was in the stroller and she was already singing. And so one can say it was a bit inevitable for her to go from teaching, to performing on these dates. A star was born.

[00:04:38] Carmen: a star was born. I actually want to talk about her very first payment for singing.

Her cousin took her down to a local radio station, signed her up for a singing competition and she won that shit. And you got paid in case. A whole

[00:04:51] Fryda: cake. Okay. Carmen, you're really excited about this whole cake, but it's one step away from getting paid and exposure. Honestly, I would love the pundit. They love the way my mom makes it.

So if it was just like that, maybe that's fine. But does that feed your family? No, of course. No. Okay. But I just, it's a cute little cute.

[00:05:07] Carmen: Yeah, that's a cute little story. Her big break came when she joined us on the. In Cuba, this was a big deal because she was the first black front woman for the Sonata Matancera and the Sonata Matancera is the national salsa band.

If you will, the

[00:05:21] Fryda: band name Sonora. Matancera what it means is so Nora comes from sown and so on as a genre of. That is from Cuba. And it's actually the genre of music that celia grows up singing and performing in and mother and Sandra, are they from ? They might be from matansa and they might not be, but that's a Sonora Matancera and it was a huge, huge break for her at the time.

So in 1957 note, that is before the revolution, but shockingly, close to the revolution, she's invited to the United States to receive an award and perform at St. Nicholas arena in New York. Okay. So she becomes familiar with New

[00:05:59] Carmen: York, which is. Her time with Senator is really not only her big break, but where she really designed her sound and her voice and the way that she was presenting to the world.

And so the fact that she came to the United States to accept an award for that was already really, really significant. I came across an article written by the Smithsonian. You said something really interesting to me. Um, so her catch phrase means sugar, and there are many stories as to how that came, including some that she's actually told herself.

But I think it was interesting that in this article they were pointing out the greater significance of. The phrase and her actually coining it and bringing it to light in such a jovial manner because of Cuba's long history with enslaved Africans who worked on Cuban sugar plantations. So that was an interesting point, but to continue on with her life story, the revolution.

[00:06:52] Fryda: Happens 1959, the Cuban revolution happens. And there are some sources that say that that cilia was somewhat in support of a revolution. I understand how these might sound controversial nowadays, but whatever. Carmen. And I are thinking and talking about the history of pre-revolutionary Cuba.

Pre-revolutionary Cuba was in a dictatorship as well with a very, very bloody leader and a lot of corruption and instability. So it, it might make sense at the time to want a change in government.

[00:07:30] Carmen: Not only that. At the time Celia Cruz was pretty young with what she was working with her context. She was looking around her and seeing a lot of things.

She probably didn't like

[00:07:40] Fryda: also, she’s black. There is going to be so many reasons why she would want her life to change. There were a bunch of on made promises promises that never actually came to fruition that were supposed to be promises of that revolution. I think shortly after 1959, it became clear. What the revolution was actually about.


[00:07:59] Carmen: looking at this all from the other side of things, you know, 60, 70 years later after the revolution. So we know what we know. We know that it turned out really, really poorly, regardless at Equis, you'll see later, never really got involved with politics. So all of that to say that, you know, whether or not she really did support the revolution before it took over, it doesn't really phase me so much.

Honestly, she's not a device.

[00:08:25] Fryda: Oh, celia is not divisive at all, but she did go through some huge heartbreak when she was exiled in 1961, she left Cuba and was never allowed to return. And then on the island, her music was not just banned, but her career was pretty much erased from history. So if you grew up in Cuba, You did not know that Celia Cruz was a

[00:08:48] Carmen: star.

That was actually super shocking for me to hear, because obviously I have the experience of growing up, knowing all about Celia Cruz and knowing how fundamental she is to this culture and to this walk of life. And so just to, to. Learn that is just wild to me. Um, so she was exiled from Cuba and she came to live in New Jersey.

And that's really interesting because most of the Cubans who are exiled from Cuba end up in Miami, but why did she not in

[00:09:16] Fryda: the south? It's not good for her. Yeah.

[00:09:20] Carmen: She's a black woman in the sixties.

[00:09:21] Fryda: No way. I'm moving to New Jersey and, or moving to the United States at that time came at a great consequence.

[00:09:27] Carmen: Absolutely. So what had happened was. That. So Nora Matancera began touring and in the middle of touring, the government decided that, you know, there was going to be no more performing outside of Cuba. And, and so she could choose to come back and then of course it would have. Complete loss of control over her artistic and creative freedom, whatever she did have everything she had been working towards with would have been down the drain.

Basically, she made her choice to relocate to New Jersey, to pursue her career and the rest of her life and the government chose to never allow her back every single time she applied for visas to come back, even during extraordinary circumstances. They actually denied her visa, which is a really terrible move on their part since

[00:10:19] Fryda: she migrated in the 1960s.

She's that from that early generation that considered themselves particularly an exile, even though Celia Cruz was specifically exiled because they believed that they could return. At some point they believe that a transition, a change in government might lead them to be able to return. But at no point during Celia's lifetime, was she.

Truly able to return to Cuba itself. And so that's really tough.

[00:10:45] Carmen: She actually has a song about this. It's called por sea caso no regreso.

[00:11:02] Fryda: such a beautiful song. And I think that's another thing about Celia's idea. That she was able to encompass that pain, that so many folks feel about not being able to return to their home.

[00:11:16] Carmen: actually translates to just in case I never come back. And just to let you know exactly how big of a Dick move it was on the Cuban government's part, her mom died and she applied for a visa to come to the funeral and the wake and the Cuban government said.


[00:11:33] Fryda: so that's what she means by extraordinary circumstances.

[00:11:36] Carmen: After relocating in New Jersey, she wrote songs son con guaguanco

[00:11:51] Carmen: which is about her transition. From Cuba to the U

[00:11:55] Fryda: S and it also perfectly describes like the new John rhe melding John rhe, that she was helping to create, which is song one genre music with woe. Anchel another John WRA. And both of them are Afro based, African based music sounds and Cuban based. So shortly after arriving to New Jersey, Celia Cruz gets the privilege of collaborating with or they get the privilege of collaborating with each other.

Now Thito is a mega artist and he's he's as big as you can say, as big as Salia in many ways, but in a different craft was a Puerto Rican. Drummer and his sound has entirely influenced the way Latino music works to this day. And imagine them two together, they started working together, making music and started crafting this sound.

And it can only happen because they were both in New Jersey, New York and that area where a Cuban and a Puerto Rican can come together.

[00:12:51] Carmen: And then in 1974, she collaborated with another Titan in music, Johnny . And from that collaboration, we got gained quimbara.

[00:13:23] Fryda: so Johnny Pacheco was a Dominican American artists. And so he wasn't a ranger or composer a band leader. When they came together, they ended up really focusing on creating a genre music called Pachanga. Like blends Cuban rhythms with meeting gay. And so that is just like this genius, Cuban, Dominican blend.

And here they are just like being pioneers in so many ways. All of these

[00:13:48] Carmen: giants, not to mention during this time, we also have salsa coming onto the scene and becoming more prevalent. We need to specify. Celia Cruz is the queen of salsa. This is the mother of this entire spirit. If you will. It's not only the music that she made.

It's also about the fashion. It's also about the hairstyle. It's about the dance. It's about the jovial qualities that make salsa. What it really is. All of these ingredients were brought together in part by Sadia.

[00:14:20] Fryda: And Salsa means a sauce,

[00:14:23] Johnny Pacheco: we had like a conglomeration of individuals from all the islands and, and it's like the stores that we went together and we took the whole thing and we put it on the one roof.


[00:14:35] Fryda: call a star. Some other things that we consider to be Cuban they're actually created by a melding that happened in the United States. And now Cuban salsa is an international thing

[00:14:46] Carmen: in 1990, say lacquer was managed to actually return to Cuba, but not to Cuba, that country, rather just the actual landmass, because you went to one dynamo to saying she went to the one-time.

Naval base. When she came to perform, she grabbed a bunch of soil and brought it back and specifically stated that the day that she died, she wanted to be buried with this soil. Isn't that so sweet and

[00:15:14] Fryda: sad. The little bit that she could grasp of, uh, you know, her Homeland. St. Andrew's came out with music until like the very end.

She lived a long rich life and she was coming out with hits and hits, hits, and like influencing music and being her powerful self all through the very end. And she was recognized on so many stages. She received the national endowment. For the arts from president bill Clinton in 1994, she has a couple of honorary degrees, including one from Yale,

[00:15:47] Carmen: all the way the national endowment for the arts is the highest recognition granted by the United States government to any artists.

So that's really big. She did die peacefully. July 16th, 2003 in her home in Fort Lee, New Jersey at the age of 77, she had been battling cancer for a while and finally unfortunately

[00:16:09] Fryda: passed. It was her wish at that time to be taken to Miami for a procession so that her admirers. Can in enjoy her and remember her before being returned to a cemetery in New York city.

I remember that funeral. I remember watching that procession. It was as if a Saint had been a Saint to die to Saint had been born. So, so special to all of us had passed.

[00:16:35] Carmen: That is definitely one of those moments. Right? It's like we have these defining moments in our lifetimes. Like where were you when nine 11 happened?

Right. It's kind of like, where were you when, you know, Celia Cruz died. It's definitely that kind of that magnitude for a lot of Cubans. So who was Santa Cruz? We just told you her whole life story, but who really was she? She is at this point a brand in Cuban culture. If you will, we can that she

[00:17:05] Fryda: created and helped to create genuinely new John Rose of music, her personality, and her style of performance was out of this world.

And her sense of. Fashion and her joy. So her joy for life was also something that was out of

[00:17:25] Carmen: this world. Her joy for life was actually the driving and main theme of all of her music. Very rarely do you see a song by Salia glues? That is a ballad, unless she's talking about really tragic things that happened to her in her life, like having to leave her home country, like having to readjust to a difficult life in a new environment and a new place.

Okay. Fine. But most of her hits most of the stuff that she's really known for it. Okay. Most of the actual music that feeds into this sort of brand that I'm talking about. A lot of that is about life and enjoying it and savoring every moment because you'll never get it back. That is says message.

[00:18:03] Fryda: And it's about celebration.

It's not about being happy, go lucky all of time. But rather existing and morning, she was in a state of mourning. She mourned her Homeland. She mourned family, she had loss and she said, celebrate, continue to celebrate. That is

[00:18:19] Carmen: everyone. Favorite thing about Salia is that no matter what, it's not so much look on the bright side as much as it is.

Beautiful and very nuanced approach to everything going on in life. Everything, all of the things that you are struggling with is entirely valid. And yet still there is beauty in that sort of breakdown.

[00:18:38] Fryda: And on top of that, she was unapologetically black. She worked with black artists. Black music. She created a genre out of Afro Cuban music and Afro Latino music.

She celebrated her features and celebrated herself. And a lot of her early music was of the Lukumi religion, which some call . And that is an, a melding of African religion and Catholicism. And also very cute. Very Afro Cuban

[00:19:13] Carmen: Salia Cruz has actually stated that she grew up Catholic and that she'd never practiced.

that being said, elements make their presence in a lot of her songs. And that is just, I think that is necessary a necessary product of presenting the Cuban culture. And I love that she incorporated that. I love

[00:19:34] Fryda: that. She said interview that even though she wasn't raised a Sonata or anything like that, but some of her family after she left Cuba, We're starting to practice on video or starting to practice a Lukumi religion.

So it's hard to extricate her entirely from that subject matter. And she don't shy away from it. She also has songs about black.

[00:19:54] Carmen: Yes. Speaking of her collaboration with , one of the most notable songs that came out of that was Bemba colara, which is a really energetic, long guaguanco. And it is a song interlude with a west African call and response.

[00:20:25] Fryda: Yeah. And means red lip and the lip being symbolism for Africanism. The song has, tito puente doing a drum solo that is like, Wild and fun. And it's exemplary of pride

[00:20:42] Carmen: for a black woman to be singing about Bemba, which is a very specific name for lips. It's not just saying lips, it's more of a lipstick lips. That's what it means.

So for a black woman to be, to be singing about thick red lips is a reclamation of that sort of power in her. Very fabulous blackness. Yeah.

[00:21:03] Fryda: And she also talks about freedom in this song. It says

and it basically means I'm looking for my freedom and like the bird I want to regain my freedom, which of course could have many personal connections to Salia and her wanting freedom and freedom of movement, but also. It's part of the struggle as a black person to talk about freedom and

[00:21:31] Carmen: want freedom.

Absolutely. And in being so candid about all of the stuff, I think one really interesting and beautiful thing about Salia is that even though she is considered a sort of crossover artist, right. She was incredibly modest and incredibly in her lane with everything she was doing, she was not trying to appeal to other audience.

She was just being herself and that was. It's also very hard to be a crossover artist and sing only in Spanish. never saying in English and that's really important because a lot of crossover artists can't accomplish that. A lot of them need to sing in English in order to appeal to an English speaking audience.

[00:22:10] Fryda: Okay. I think the only time I heard her try to sing English, it was like a Guantanamera she did with Wyclef Jean. And I think she tried to sing like a couple words in English, but like, does that count that much? Not that much. Okay. See, she was just a couple of words. She didn't like try to make whole songs in English, as far as I

[00:22:26] Carmen: know another thing about Salia again, refusing to court, this sort of crossover demand.

Is that even in her Latin presentation, she's not what you normally think of as the regular Latina entertainer. She was not interested in showing off a lot of skin ever. She was incredibly, always incredibly well modest, very elegant and. Out there. Another thing is that despite singing a lot about Cynthia and incorporating a lot of those elements that sort of represent a large part of Cuban culture, despite that she didn't practice on video, she created an arena for people who do practice to rally and use her music for more than.

Dancing more than just listening more than just enjoying, but rather as a force of worship as an avenue for worship. And that's really important too, for community-building and identity. And

[00:23:19] Fryda: as you said, Celia, Cruz was dark skinned and it's not as easy to make it as a dark skinned woman, especially. And are the industry.

And the music industry has generally favored lighter skin women. And so she has a triumph in herself. And also for I'm sure. Dealing with all of the beauty standards that exist and continue to exist.

[00:23:41] Carmen: Yeah, definitely on beauty standards, I think it's really cool that she understood what the beauty standard was and she understood how she did not fit into it.

And yet she still saw a lot of value and a lot of appreciation for what she did bring to the table. And you could see that really well with her sense of fashion. She was a trailblazer. She looked around and she saw the beauty standards that were established by the powers that be. And she said, you know what?

I don't fit into that beauty standard. We watched

[00:24:08] Fryda: an interview where she said,

[00:24:14] Celia Cruz: yo siempre he sido fea

[00:24:29] Fryda: out here but people still appreciate me for it. And so she was, again, unapologetic about calling herself ugly, and yet the way she presents herself in a room, she's not trying to hide. Salia has never tried to hide. And I think that's, like we said something very special about her personality and her.

[00:24:51] Carmen: Salia sense of fashion was absolutely larger than life. Those cool shoes, that lady Gaga brought out back in 2009 with no heel. Salia actually brought those to the stage back in the sixties and seventies, then Nicki Minaj, techni colored wig, that then became super popular. And now we have everybody trying to do cool hair.

All of that stuff Sendhil was doing way back in the day. Cardi B. The entire video of, I like it like that, that entire scene of the sort of a Caribbean atmosphere, everybody dancing Cardi with a giant turbins and the enormous dresses that are ballooning out from behind her and beautiful silks of Juul tones.

That is the most salient thing I have seen that is her brand. Her dress is actually on display at this missile. Yeah.

[00:25:40] Fryda: Actually, a lot of St Joe's fashion was on display at the Smithsonian because her dresses, her wigs were I conic in, sometimes it kind of got in the way, but she made the decisions that she made.

I'm referring to a story that she told in this documentary where early on in her musical career and education. She was working with a piano teacher and was trying to learn piano. And the teacher was just like, you either get rid of your nails or you don't get to play piano because it was just not working out.

And she said she chose her nails,

[00:26:11] Carmen: hashtag priorities. Sonya was such a figure that among the many accolades and wonderful things that are on her resume, Celia was on Sesame street. She has her own Google image. She has been on the U S stamp.

[00:26:26] Fryda: You guys need to watch the Sesame street episode because she, it just shows out like joyful she is and how she manages to go to Sesame street and still exude all of the talent in the world, even though she's next to all these puppets, like how do you do that?

Salia you are perfect. You were perfect.

[00:26:45] Carmen: We love Salia and she is not just this amazing figure who made this beautiful music that we all love and know. And she's not just somebody who had a really interesting fashion sense and was unapologetically black and created all of these anthems for us as Cubans, but cilia kind of in a sense, permeates so many aspects of what it means to be Cuban, that she, you can't be Cuban and not know about her.

[00:27:13] Fryda: You watch an interview with her today and you hear her talking, you just like, oh, you remind me of my grandmother. You remind me of someone that I know and love. And when she talks about how she might spend her evening, she might go over to a neighbor's house that she trusts and just have a good meal with them.

And then sit at home with bay that all her husband and she's relatable, honestly, and always had been. And, and yet, Larger than life. And I know we've said that so many times, but now she's passed and she, she lives on inside of us. She lives on in memory

[00:27:48] Carmen: that larger than life, but relatable quality about her.

Is kind of what it, what it's like to be Cuban to be like that out there and be loud and be very unapologetically Cuban. But at the same time, you're like really not that big of a deal. You're just a regular person. And that is one of the reasons why Salia is somebody that everyone is proud to talk about.

All Cubans can rally behind Celia Cruz. No one can touch her. She can do absolutely nothing. Wrong. That's exactly why. And Celia Cruz never lived a life of conflict. Trust me, I scoured the internet. I scoured folks.

[00:28:26] Fryda: We were like, all right, we're going to present this. However, we can, all

[00:28:28] Carmen: that. We do not shy away from criticism.

If we think something is wrong or we disagree with something, even if it's a same idea, even if it was in Equis, we would tell you. But honestly, this woman couldn't find anything on her. She has no dirt. She's just amazing.

[00:28:43] Fryda: And what can I say? Yeah. Yeah. And look, you don't have to be perfect, but how the hell did you end up so perfect.

Celia Cruz? I don't know. We don't know. I also, I really

[00:28:53] Carmen: love that celiac. Cruz is a call to action. I know we, we say those words now, and they're a little bit loaded because there's a lot going on in Cuba and there's a lot going on in the world and there's a lot of protesting. Civil unrest in many locations of the world, especially within our own diaspora.

Um, but what I love about Salia and what I'm saying about her being a call to action is that you can't, you don't listen to Salia come on the radio and then sit there completely still. She's not you. That will never.

[00:29:24] Fryda: You move, you scream, you get up, you move around, you celebrate, you laugh, you have fun. You remember the good times

[00:29:29] Carmen: it is.

She's a conversation piece, whoever you see also moving their shoulders when Salia comes on, then you know that they also know what's up. She's that kind of figure. And she's inspiring

[00:29:39] Fryda: as hell as a woman, a men. No, Carmen, not amen. AZUCAR!

[00:29:46] Carmen: this episode we don't just have a cubanismo, we have a celiaismo. And the Azucar is her signature, which is something that Celia yells randomly in the middle of a song with her deep sort of passionate voice. Yeah.

[00:30:04] Fryda: And you don't, and you don't say. No you don't. No, no, no. You gotta yell it with that intonation moving around and you'll know that when you yell it out, you have to move your mouth upward so that the whole room can hear it because it sounds for celebration being loud and putting sugar on it.

Let me

[00:30:22] Carmen: tell you something. If you walk into a room and you just don't say anything and you just yell at sukkah and there is, but one Cuban person in the room. They're going to yell it back. Absolutely. They're going to yell it back. There's that's the column, the response call

[00:30:35] Fryda: and response. Yeah. And that's a literal context of the school and he's mobile.

[00:30:55] Celia Cruz:

[00:31:12] Fryda: so there's a lot of possible origins of azucar, but apparently the most practical origin story, which she gave at a talk show was that. She would tell this story. A lot of times all the orchestra was warming up and she was getting ready to sing. She would tell stories. And one of the stories that she told was about going to a restaurant somewhere and the waiter asking her if she wanted more sugar and she would say, yeah, of course I want more sugar.

I'm Cuban. I, so God, I want more sugar. Okay. She told that story. So, so many times she got frustrated. At some point you would just walk out and people kept asking for it. They'll be like, tell the store. She eventually just said, asked so God, and it became larger than the story itself. And that is Salia and

[00:31:57] Carmen: that is such a thing that there's actually an ice cream shop in the middle of in Miami called

It's absolutely delicious. I highly

[00:32:05] Fryda: recommend it. They're not paying us, but they better do that. Uh, when, uh, the flavor or flavor with

and all those

[00:32:17] Carmen: flavors delicious. Thank you so much for listening to one of our favorite episodes ever to record. Not only because it's about Salia, but also because we're in person in person, this has never happened. We've never done an episode in person ever, ever big shout out and thank you to all of our patrons.

God Lauren Gian, Christine de Derek, Andy , Susan Lauren Kaylee. Amali Kristin, Sarah Corinne. Jason Daniel. Josh is that callous and Jesse, thank you all so much for your continued support. It is only because of you were able to continue. We also want to let you all know that we are offering merch for sale on our website and on all social media.

As at the pod.

[00:33:11] Fryda: We also, speaking of social media show up. Every other week that we don't publish a show, we show up and we do a thing called cafecito where we get on Instagram live and we talk to our listeners and we talk to our followers. So folks, we want to make sure that, you know, that exists because we would love to see you there.


[00:33:30] Carmen: see you there. Teikirisi

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