Thursday 30 October 2008

Killer Opening Songs (Naufragio by Yusa)

Carrying on from last week's theme of tracks which should be Killer Opening Songs but they are not, our weekly section travels to my birthplace, Cuba. And whilst there we venture into the well-known neighbourhood Buena Vista in west Havana. However, my chiquitines, if you think that this is going to be a post about the famous ensemble of performers put together by Don Juan de Marcos, Nick Gold and Ry Cooder in the mid 90s, you can start filling up your hankies with boogies and tears now, because... no, it's not a column about Cuba's most famous export since beards became equally fashionable almost fifty years ago to the day.

This post is more about why Cuba is such a wonderful place for music, both the creation and the development of it. And if Killer Opening Songs sounds slightly jingoistic this week, I hope you don't mind, please, because K.O.S. won't mind either.

Yusa, our guest tonight, was born in Havana's charming suburb of Buena Vista (yes, Killer Opening Songs is aware of that, too, but to K.O.S. all parts of Havana have their own very special charm, thank you very much). Her music is an eclectic mix of styles which more accurately reflect the musical multiplicity of contemporary Cuban culture. She draws some of her inspiration from the nueva trova traditsion, but has acknowledged in interviews that she has also been influenced by musicians as dissimilar as Led Zeppelin, Djavan, Bobby Carcassés and Sting. Although she has often been compared to Tracy Chapman, the cynic inside Killer Opening Songs thinks that this statement is nothing but laziness on the part of music journalists. If every time we see a guitar-toting black female, the only reference we can come up with is the Cleveland-born chanteuse, then the future looks bleak and grim for performers like Yusa.

Yusa studied at Havana's Amadeo Roldán Conservatory and during her time there, she also picked up the cuban tres (a traditional Cuban guitar with three pairs of double-strings). This shows the fiery side in her as women on the Caribbean island are not known for playing this instrument. She has also been known to play keyboard and bass in her albums.

The track K.O.S. is uploading tonight is included in her second album Breathe from 2005 and is called 'Naufragio (Shipwreck)'. It deals with urban loneliness and desolation. Its opening lines 'Hace frío y quema/Todo tiembla/La calle escupe hielo/El aire se quebró/Partículas de sol/Incrustándose al invierno/Sabores de la escarcha/Vibraciones del color' (This cold is burning me/Everything shakes/The street spits ice/The air is broken/Sun fragments/Frost flavours/Colour vibrations) are heart-rending and dig deep in the listener's soul. The track continues along the same path of hope followed by hopelessness, inspiration destroyed by indifference. That's how we get to the stanza in French and especially the line below, which to me sums up pretty much the feelings and frustrations of the Cuban youth of both the 90s and the noughties: 'Qui t’a dit que l’unique façon de vivre/c’est de vendre ton destin?' (Who told you that the only way to live is by selling out?). This is followed by an even more poignant line still in French: 'la vie nous appelle/on va recommencer a zéro/on va commencer a vivre' (life is calling us, we're going start from zero, we're going to start living). Everytime Killer Opening Songs listens to this particular track and this particular verse, tears moist its eyes and memories of those Cubans long gone, drowned in the choppy waters of the Florida straits or gone on planes Europe or North America bound, come to mind. The song was written by Pavel Urquiza, who, as many of the Cuban readers who pop by this blog regularly know, was one half of one of the most talented outfits in the Havana of the 90s, Gema & Pavel, and one of the most forward-thinking, innovative singer-songwriters from the so-called 'Generacion de los Topos' (Mole Generation).

Why was this track not the Killer Opening Song of this fantastic album? K.O.S. e-mailed Yusa to ask her for her opinion on the matter, highlighting the fact that it was not questioning her decision to slot this song in the 11th position rather than at the top at all. That would be taking this music malarkey a bit too serious. K.O.S. has not had any reply yet, but trusts that Yusa will get in touch with it as soon as possible.

In the meantime, enjoy this live performance by Yusa, a classic example of excellent Cuban music.

For earlier Killer Opening Songs, click on the links below:

Killer Opening Songs (D'Angelo's Brown Sugar)
Killer Opening Songs (Sinéad O'Connor's 'Fire on Babylon')
Killer Opening Songs (Queen's Mustapha)
Killer Opening Songs (Caetano Veloso-Haiti)
Killer Opening Songs (David Bowie - Unwashed and S...
Killer Opening Songs (Massive Attack - Safe From H...
Killer Opening Songs (Bob Brozman)
Killer Opening Songs (Vanessa da Mata - Vermelho)
Killer Opening Songs (The Beatles-Help!)
Killer Opening Songs (Souad Massi-Raoui)
Killer Opening Songs (Habib Koité - Batoumambé)
Killer Opening Songs (Mary Black - No Frontiers)
Killer Opening Songs (Chico Buarque & Milton Nasci...
Killer Opening Songs (David Gilmour - Shine On You...
Killer Opening Songs (Ernesto Lecuona - 'La Compar...
Killer Opening Songs (Chopin 'Fantaisie-Impromptu ...

Copyright 2008


  1. Ahhhh... So that's how she looks like! A friend of mine from Cuba, who plays the bass is a great admirer of her. He told me about her one day we were talking about Lenine. He was trying to find this album of his where she is featured. I happened to have that particular album, but didn't even know who Yusa was! I though she was Xiomara Laugart doing the chorus (don't know why because now that I hear her again they don't sound anythink alike). In his opinion she is one of the most talented musician of modern Cuban music. He also thinks that she is the only woman that knows to play the bass "the right way" which means "not like a cute girl" according to him.
    So I finally "meet" her, thanks to you, Chelsea boy.
    I hope she answers you e-mail. It would be very cool to have her in this blog.

    I must also say that she caught me by surprised when she started speaking in French. I love when I see Cubans speaking other languages, specially if they are not renown intellectuals. It's such a weird feeling... Like a mix of pride and relief. The more knowledge we have of other cultures, the more open minded we will be, and the closer to achieving true freedom.


  2. Hola Cuban, he escuchado alguna vez esta canción del vídeo, y por otra parte había oído sobre Yusa pero mi imagen sobre ella era "difusa"...ahora la tengo clara, he tabulado a Yusa;-)gracias por esta aproximación a nuestra música fresca, un abrazo

  3. Well, thank you both and I love being called Chelsea Boy Adriana, especially when the London Blues trash Sunderland 5-0 (today).

    I first spotted Yusa at Gerardo Alfonso's old session every Thursday at 3pm at the Café Cantante del Teatro Nacional in '94 or '95. But I'm not sure if it was her or not.

    Yup, I hope she answers my e-mail and joins the Cuban blogosphere. Like you, I was mightily impressed by her rapping in French.

    You're welcome, dear Betty, you're welcome.

    Greetings from London.

  4. Thank you very much for sharing this music. I truly enjoyed this performance, Yusa's and the other musicians too. At first, I didn't think the Tracy Chapman comparison was off, because the quality of her voice in the first minute is reminiscent of her. But then she took off to an entirely different place, so many more dimensions. This was a great live performance, wish I could have been there.

  5. This may be a helpful link, seeing as you post songs quite often:

    You can search...make a playlist...and then imbed a little mini player into your blog post.

  6. Thanks, dutchbaby and vesper (I will be checking that link). I'm glad you liked her performance. She's a very confident singer.

    Greetings from London.

  7. Que rico ambiente de intercambio y cuantas sorpresas hay por aqui siempre BRO.
    En cada track del disco de YUSA hay un encuentro, se las arregla para hacernos recordar, ella no solo lleva ese setimiento, sino que lo sintetiza.
    Volao bro!

  8. Gracias asere, me impacto Yusa desde el primer momento que la oi, y de hecho fue mi esposa quien cogio el disco en la tienda.

    Saludos desde Londres.

  9. so true what you said about the laziness of music journalists. sometimes their commentary leaves my wondering who put them in charge.

    i really like her sound. maybe the local festival organizing committee can bring her here one year for festival international.


  10. Fly, I think Yusa visited the States at some point last year. I could be wrong, but I read somewhere that she was either thinking of performing there or she was poised to perform there.

    Thanks for your comments.

    Greetings from London.

  11. My goodness, her voice is like velvet. I'm so glad I could listen to this song this morning.

  12. Thanks, TB, yes, indeed, she has a magnificent voice and she knows how to use it, too.

    Greetings from London.

  13. hola, te escribo por que he estado buscando la letra de esta canción por bastante tiempo y no la consigo con el par de estrofas que tiene en francés sino en español completamente, te agradecería que si la tienes o sabes donde la puedo encontrar me informaras



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