YUSA / “Flash”
I do not pretend to entertain anybody, I just make songs like a vital need, like breathing, beyond my existence. Songs just arise as if they had their own road. It is not planned at all, no method. In fact, it takes me a lot of time to compose, it has to do with my mood at the time, thoughts rolling around my brain, that frame and shape my sensitive and thinking being.
Debuting with your first album at twenty-nine is not normal in today’s global music industry. Yusa is not representative of the norm. She is obviously special, but her specialness is not immediately evident, even after you learn about her background. Does her music sound Cuban? What does one expect when one is about to hear Cuban music?
Yusa has grasped the concept of being grounded in a specific community while simultaneously being open to world influences. After critical acclaim for her eponymous first album, her second release was a DVD of an engagement in England at the famed Ronnie Scott’s jazz club. And now we have her second album (albeit her third release).
In the music industry there is what is called the sophomore jinx. The expectation is that your second album will be much weaker than your debut release, particularly if your debut was a popular and critical success. Why? Well, generally because the first album is the best of what you had been working on up to that point in your life, whereas your second album was what you could throw together, usually in an interval of not more than two or three years.
Yusa candidly recognizes this inherent limitation on the follow-up to a great beginning. In March 2005, Yusa told an interviewer for Latina Magazine in Japan: “As I have explained before, the CD “YUSA” contains all the tunes that I had written in 29 years. Well, almost all of them. As you can imagine in two years you can’t do the same. Furthermore, in the time between them I was interacting musically with the same persons who appear as co-writers in “BREATHE”. This CD reflects exactly who I am today and these songs were born while rehearsing or jamming with Roberto, Elmer, Descemer… naturally…”
If you want to know more about Yusa and read interviews with her, go to her bilingual website (http://www.yusa.co.uk/) or go to her record company’s website (http://www.tumimusic.com/english/yusa.htm).
Now, let us consider the featured song. “Flash” is a deceptively simple song with elusive and allusive lyrics. (English translations of Yusa’s songs are available here: http://www.yusa.co.uk/songs.do?id=3)
algo nuevo hay en el barrio, cambio.
salen complices de un auto
dos mujeres a la vez.
various rostros se miraron
There’s something new in the neighborhood
Things have changed
The accomplices, two women
Get out of a car
Various faces look at each other
What does this poem/song mean? What is it about? Yusa is a lesbian, openly. There is something new.
The first version is from her debut album and although it is mainly Yusa doing bass and voice, there are also streets sounds incorporated into the production. It is brief. Less than two minutes, barely a minute and a half. Although I thought the song attractive, I did not fully appreciate it when I first heard it.
The second version is from a solo Yusa concert in the Netherlands (audio available here: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.omroep.nl/nps/4fm/gfx/musicmeeting2003/yusa/slide_3.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.omroep.nl/nps/4fm/artiesten/yusa.html&h=450&w=295&sz=15&tbnid=x6us5uMPqTQJ:&tbnh=124&tbnw=81&hl=en&start=10&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dyusa%26svnum%3D10%26hl%3Den%26lr%3D%26client%3Dsafari%26rls%3Den%26sa%3DN). Again just voice and bass, but now the song surges pass the five-minute mark. And now, even without a translation, one can feel the passion of commitment and social defiance in the pitch of Yusa’s voice.
The third version, from the excellent new album, is a radical development of the song. There is a full band. A backing chorus. A rapper. It is fierce. In your face confrontational. Where the first version had the quiet intimacy of a shared secret, and the second verse had the intense determination of an intention to be heard, this third version is a communal declaration of a whole new life, a life that is shared with and approved of by others, by a circle of accomplices. It is no longer only a reflection about a one-on-one relationship, it is now a structural adjustment of what will define the new neighborhood.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
I like the dream-state feel
I don’t like all of Yusa’s music, but I like all of her spirit. Her concert photos remind me a young Joan Armatrading: gentle and calm, yet somehow indomitable. It’s the same vibe that pervades the first version of “Flash,” the solo version with the street sounds. Kalamu is right though, the final version of “Flash” is on that next level. There’s nothing quiet about it. I do dig it, but I still like the first version best.
My favorite Yusa track (so far) is the title track “Breathe.” I like the dream-state feel of the song and I like the ambiguity of the lyrics. Even though I can’t say with certainty what Yusa is singing about, I get the feeling that I know exactly what she means.
—Mtume ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Sunday, December 25th, 2005 at 1:10 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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