(Tumi, 2002)

The liner notes to Yusa's self-titled album advertise that it will change your opinions about contemporary Cuban music. If you're the sort of person who's actually spent time forming a solid opinion about contemporay Cuban music, that might be true. Those not sure what to expect from the modern Cuban music scene will find a strangely compelling album whose individuality stands out without comparisons.

Certainly Yusa goes beyond the limits of traditional Cuban music for her inspiration. The jazz influence is the most audible note, dominating the horns and setting the beat. Traditional son shows its presence more in the pauses and silences between notes, creating an old-fashioned feel even through the more modern beats. Whether the instrument is a jazzy trumpet or slowly rippling strings, they serve chiefly as a framework for Yusa's vocals. She has a solid, low voice, with an unusual brightness for such deep tones. She presents her lyrics with a slow, easy touch that lets each syllable linger.

There's a strange peace to this album, a stillness formed in the space between the powerful vocals and spare instrumental arrangements. In the lullaby strings of "Tienta parendes" or the waltzing "Cancion en cuna para Freya," Yusa creates a hypnotic allure that encourages the neglect of deadlines and other distractions in favor of simple listening.

That soothing sound can become somewhat numbing. I often found myself getting lost in one song only to realize much later that three tracks had gone by. Yusa's slow jazz style and unstressed lyrics make for a very liquid, flowing album, but one with few definable high points. They lyrics are often rather brief for the time they're given to fill, no matter how poetic the translated liner notes reveal those words to be. The perky, mod groove of "La fabula" or the almost Western-style "Todo o casi nada" are invigorating interludes in the smooth flow of the larger album, and the last five tracks break far away from the general sound of the collection, but with 15 tracks that may be too little variety for those who try to hear all Yusa has to offer in one sitting.

It would be more of a drawback if the dominant sound wasn't so lovely. With poetic lyrics and a powerful voice to drive them, Yusa doesn't need liner notes to point out her originality. She sings for herself.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 6 December 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.