‘Yusa is living proof,’ announce the sleeve-notes to the début album from the young singer, ‘that not everyone in Cuba is making music like their grandaddy!’ Ouch. But there is a point to be made: great as the salsa tidal wave of Buena Vista Social Club is, it is hardly representative of today’s Cuba. All of which means that Yusa, whose delicately orchestrated songs are about life in Havana, provides a more contemporary (though equally sensuous) snapshot of modern living.
This is no incidental detail. Yusa is also an astonishingly accomplished first album, possessing a mature, honeyed tone of voice that can swoop across tones with amazing ease. The music too leaves much of the past behind: the reliance on strict dance rhythms gives way to a free-floating jazzy feel where gentle Spanish guitars and piano (the latter courtesy of Roberto Carcassés) dominate. Even Yusa’s love songs seem like a break from the high dramas of the past: ‘A Las Doce’ (Twelve o’clock) or ‘La Número 2’ are songs about yearning but they’re far away from the all-or-nothing school of lovers or even the melancholic soudade that’s passed into Brazilian music. Of course there are moments when Yusa and band let rip – ‘Chiqui-chaca’ is an instrumental that turns into a thunderously fun acapella – but it’s the spirited introspection that makes her such an individual talent.Louise Gray