Arts, Culture & Media

Global Hit - Yusa

The Buena Vista Social Club brought attention to older Cuban musicians who had been forgotten. And the project reintroduced the world to some of the island's classic mambos and Afro-Cuban rhythms. But it also had the unintended effect of making the world think that's the only kind of music Cubans make. There are artists who play timba, hip-hop, psychedelic rock. And then there's a young woman in a class all by herself. The World's Marco Werman tells us about Yusa.

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In the post-Buena Vista age, Cuban music tends to tuck inside your brain in a certain way. So when you hear Yusa for the first time, her songs and her sound don't quite fit.

Yusa has so many ways of expressing herself in music, it's hard to come up with a way to describe her except as the anti-mambo queen.

Or, as the Joni Mitchell of Cuba.

�Ten years ago there was space for just one kind of music, you know. Right now there's space for everybody. Cause right now there's a new Cuban music happening. It's made by Cuban musicians for all kinds of music. And I think this music is in good health right now.�

Yusa was born and raised in Havana. If she sounds original her background can account for some of that. Her mother is an economist.

Her father a sailor. And the music she grew up listening to is also revealing. From Michael Jackson and the Police, to Mozart and Cuban trova singer-songwriters like Silvio Rodriguez.

Yusa's musical training was classical. Her teachers saw her as a bit of a rebel. She'd transpose classical works for guitar and play them on the tres.

She'd also slip in jazz solos to the classical repertoire.

�In the classical training it's very strict, and at that time I was just hearing Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, but I was like very wild, a little bit wild child, and I was just playing Chick Corea solos. I was just interested by that music.�

The wild child and her Chick Corea solos confused her teachers. To a certain degree, Yusa's music continues to confuse Cubans today.

�It's not popular; it's not what they're used to. For example, people know me more outside of Cuba than in here, and that's funny you know, cause I'm Cuban.�

Yusa's songs are mostly about love. Occasionally she slips in subtle ideas about globalization. But politics don't make overt appearances in her songs. As for the standoff between Cuba and the U.S., Yusa mostly finds it unfortunate.

�But what is really a shame is that you don't really know what is happening about Cuba, because for to know how Cuban music is you have to live in here, and you have to see it with your own eyes.�

At least for the near future, most Americans won't be able to experience the full range of that Cuban music in person.

Until the economic embargo is lifted, Yusa's latest CD "Haiku" can provide a peek inside what we've been missing.

For The World, I'm Marco Werman.