‘Music is my life. I feel like I was born singing.’
Sixty-two years ago she performed for the first time on stage. The next day her mother got a surprise visit from the pastor who asked how she could have let her sixteen year old daughter sing in a nightclub. Doña Mafalda Minguel (79) laughs: "In those days there were no female artists. I became the first and I think my mother was really proud of me."
She always knew she could sing, says Doña Mafalda. "As a child I sang at home, at school, all I wanted was to sing.” She never imagined becoming famous. “That’s not what I cared about. I just loved singing, and I still do.” In the old days her brothers’ friends came to visit her family home to play guitar, and, she recalls: ‘They always asked me to sing a few songs.” Now three of her four sons - Arnell, Carlos and Sherman – practice every week at the patio in front of the house and ask their mother to sing.
'Arnell i su Orkesta' are a name that almost anyone in Curacao would recognize, they are widely regarded as one of the most important Curacaoan musical groups. Doña Mafalda still performs with the band on occasion. "I just love it. Music is my life. It is through music that I met my husband..." She freezes up, the early death of her beloved husband Manuel 'Shon Ma' Salsbach, in 2001, is too painful to talk about. Her son proudly shows a black and white photo of the famous trumpeter.
"Every day my parents rehearsed out here," says Arnell Salsbach (52), sitting on the porch of the one level home in Suffisant, where the family has been living for 50 years. "When my father came home from work, he started playing the trumpet. On Saturdays and Sundays he played all day long, he would put records on and play different parts, then my mom would start singing the lyrics, and often others jumped in, singing duets, playing instruments.” There was always ambiance, he says, smiling from ear to ear. “Sometimes, when new people had come to live in the neighborhood, we received complaints. On several occasions we got a visit from the police, after they received a call from someone new in Suffisant. Police officers stayed a while to listen, they all enjoyed it, and we were never summoned: we were respected as a musical family.”
Shon Ma Salsbach was six years older than Doña Mafalda. He had just turned twenty when he came to play guitar at her family home, as one of her brother’s friends. He knew how to play the piano too. “He encouraged me to perform on stage," she says. "First with Trio Caribe, and then Trio Pentagram, performing at private gatherings and receptions." In 1954 she sang for the first time for the general public, performing with Sonora Moda at the Jolly Fellows Society at Rifwaterstraat. Only sixteen years old, but she wasn’t nervous at all, says Doña Mafalda. "When I started singing, the members of the Society started applauding and cheering me on. Everyone enjoyed the evening. "
Three years later, in September 1957, Doña Mafalda married her trumpet player and band manager. The ceremony took place in the presence of family and friends, and was not given much publicity. "We had both become famous, but we’ve always put family first.” The couple had six children: four sons and two daughters. They traveled to New York for performances, to Belgium, made a memorable debut at the Antilliaanse Feesten in Hoogstraten, and did several theatre tours in the Netherlands. Both sharing passion and joy, until the sudden death of Shon Ma on April 1, 2001.
‘Te Busco’ by Celia Cruz is Doña Mafalda's favorite song. She sings: "Al cielo una mirada larga, buscando un poco de mi vida. Mis estrellas no responden para alumbrarme hacia tu risa ... " (I keep gazing at the sky, looking for a part of my life ...) She then smiles, says: "I love boleros. And, of course salsa… Cucala, Cucala, Cucalaaaa…” Although she has difficulty walking, every time Doña Mafalda gets on stage, she gives a vibrant show. "Que no me paren la rumba,” says La Grande Dame de la Chanson, and smiles.