Yusa: from Cuba, with love…
Yusa (Yusimil Lopez Bridon) was born in the Buena Vista district of today´s Playa and grew up in the modern Alamar housing community of east Havana. She began at the age of six with the guitar. Now Yusa is admired and known as a highly talented arranger, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist playing guitar, tres, bass and piano/keyboards in various son, jazz, rock and acoustic duo combinations. Her band´s sound is a fusion of traditional and modern, of Cuban, Brazilian, western jazz, rock and funk.
Hailed as Cuba’s own 21st century Jimi Hendrix (www.tumimusic.com), Yusa is amongst the generation of contemporary artists coming out of Latin America and the Caribbean that give testament to the region’s complex relationship between heritage and innovation. In the seminal work Contrapunteo cubano del tabaco y el azúcar (Cuban Contrapunteo of tobacco and sugar, 1940) Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz suggests that in order to understand Cuban contemporary culture and the rise of a notable ‘Cuban identity’ one needs to consider the process of cultural transformation endemic to Cuba since the days of the Spanish colonisers. Ortiz suggests that Cuban music –its rhythms and structures-- has been marked by a process of transculturation: “the word transculturation expresses better the different phases of the transient process from a culture to another one, because it does not only consist of acquiring a different culture, \that is the aculturation, but also implies necessarily the loss of a preceding culture, which could be said of a partial desculturation, and, in addition, it means the consequent creation of new cultural phenomena that could be denominated neoculturation…” (Ortiz, p. 103). Nowhere is this more felt than in its musical landscape.
It is against this background of heritage and innovation that Yusa’s work draws significant consideration, an eclectic mix of styles that more accurately reflect the musical multiplicity of contemporary Cuban culture.
Yusa started with guitar, went on to Cuban tres guitar, taking piano and bass in her stride. Her work has been influenced by years spent jamming in the hallways and classrooms of the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory exchanging musical ideas with contemporaries such as Roberto Carcasses, who is now the arranger of many of her songs. Yusa was also part of the improvising female quintet Quasi-Jazz at that crucible of Cuban music, ´El Zorro y el Cuervo´, the basement night club on Havana´s central La Rampa street which has been at the cutting edge of Cuban jazz since the early 20th century.
Yusa’s music has been linked to the nueva trova tradition, the musical phenomenon born in the second half of the decade of the 1960s in the islands of the Caribbean. The genre sees itself as a continuation of the ‘traditional trova’, the traditional song of the guitar-playing troubadour. (www.nuevatrova.com). Critics agree that Yusa actualises the tradition and its offshoot of bolero and notably ´filin´ (feeling).
The bolero was born in Cuba’s eastern city of Santiago. Its origins go back—at least by name—to the Spanish bolero, a light dance in 3/4 time. Unexpectedly, it also derives in a way from the English country-dance, which became known in French as contradanse. French colonists, escaping from the Haitian revolution across the straits from eastern Cuba, brought with them the music, which in Spanish became contradanza (www.lafi.org/magazine/articles/bolero.html). Against this background, with its mixture of danza, habanera, trova, and son, and other local, European, and African rhythms, emerges the bolero, taking the name of the Spanish form but changing its time signature to 2/4 and then to 4/4. The new bolero was different in ways other than the change in time signature. A mark of the African influence was the typical cinquillo, or five-note cluster, brought from Haiti, which originally defined the phrasing of the lyrics and later the arrangement of the song. Also new was the accompaniment on claves or maracas, and eventually bongos or conga drums. The bolero began as, and remains, a love song. It is, however, a danceable love song, a memory of sweet or bitter love, but with a swing.
In popular terminology, there is a variant of the bolero called—redundantly—bolero tropical, which gives the song a livelier feeling, while keeping the same time, through the repeated strumming of chords within a measure after plucking a bass note. The bolero evolved into or influenced the development of subsequent forms. A natural line of evolution leads from the bolero to the Cuban ´fílin´, a blend of ballad, bolero, and jazz that was identified most with Elena Burke until her recent death, but also with performers such as Pablo Milanés (www.lafi.org/magazine/articles/bolero.html). It is worth noting that Yusa has recorded most of her debut album in the studio of Milanés.
Yusa´s self-titled debut has been described as “a disc that breaks the boundaries”. Critics note a “soft spot for the local rumba, if ´A Las Doce´ is anything to go by, but she also casts her net wider, and the influence of North American pop and jazz and even Brazilian music is obvious to even the casual listener”. Producer Pavel infuses pieces with ´found sounds´ from percussive traffic to trains, camera clicks to children´s cries, music box melodies to the crash of sea waves. The bitter-sweet lyrics are realised in a music full of simplicity and sophistication as befits modern Cuba. Reviewers have identified a debt to Brazilian musical antecedents: "La Fábula mirrors perfectly the kind of shiny Afro-pop perfected by Gilberto Gil in the mid-´70s; "Tienta Paredes" and "Canción en Cuna Para Freya" both draw from the work of samba classicist Virginia Rodrigues; and "Cuestion de Ángulo" and "Mares de Inócencia" are closely linked to Milton Nascimento. The most striking homage is "Involución", modelled by a Caetano Veloso tune, all dramatic shifts in time and emotion and stabbing complicated string arrangements and fascinating lyrics: translated, the song begins with the very Veloso verse: "A dinosaur on the stairs / And you don´t see it / Another roaming the sidewalk / And you don´t believe it". Of special note are the contributions of pianist Roberto Carcassés, bassist Jorge Alexander Pérez, and drummer Oliver Valdés, as well as Yusa herself on Spanish guitar, electric guitar, piano, bass, and percussion.
The slow semi-bossa number "La Número 2" includes the lovely lines "Tiempo, constancia de un sabor / Destino en mi garganta / Que se estancó y se hizo adiós en el silencio" ("Time, the permanence of a taste / Destiny in my throat / Which got stuck into a silent goodbye"), which, when sung by Yusa´s charming strong voice and accented by birdlike strings, could “cause a heart to break at one-hundred yards”. However, in songs like Chiqui-Chaca", with Urquiza on guitar and co-writer Domingo Candelario on vocals, Yusa bursts out with a style of music that is an indelible mark of her poetry; a mixing of funk, folk and jazz together with R&B that makes her more “an Impressionist than a painter of still life” (www.popmatters.com):
Listening to the bittersweet lyrics of new Cuban singer Yusa and the simple sophistication of her music one knows one is finally hearing 21st century Cuba. Her cutting-edge songs map the contemporary emotional lives of urban Havana. Fused inside her music are traces from further afield, from iconoclastic jazz and rock to today´s Brazil.
Full of the vital energy of experimentation and the textures of musical exchange gained in intimate venues, Yusa offers a whole new way of hearing Cuba. (Jan Fairley, www.bbcworld.com)
Author: Ana Sanchez-Colberg
Yusa (Yusimil Lopez Bridon) was born in the Buena Vista district of today´s Playa and grew up in the modern Alamar housing community of east Havana.
Yusa Live at Ronnie Scott´s
Production / Performance,
Producer: Yusa/Roberto Carcasses
Recorded at Ronnie Scott´s on April 20th, 2003.
Musical Producers: Yusa/Roberto Carcasses
YUSA: voice, guitar, electric bass
Roberto Carcasses: piano
Lucia Huergo: sax
Ruy Lopez-Nussa: drums
Omar Valdes: double bass
Producer: Pavel Urquiza