YUSA / “Breathe”

MP3 04 Breathe.mp3 (4.14 MB)

This was my hardest choice, by far. Kalamu listens to a lot of new music—much more than I do—and he has a particularly good ear for female singer-songwriters. While I’m happy to spend most of my time listening to hip-hop from the Eighties, soul from the Seventies, jazz from the Sixties and pop and R&B from the Fifties, Kalamu remains dedicated to the here and now. He wants to know not only what’s happening today, but also, and maybe moreso, what’s going to be happening tomorrow. Maybe it’s because he works with young people everyday. Maybe it’s just because he cares more than I do.*

In any event, in the process of settling on this tune by Yusa, I had to pass over superlative tune-smithing and sound-making like Rokia Traoré & the Kronos Quartet’s “Bowmboï” (ethereal and meticulous); Verna Francis’ “What Kind Of World” (sentient, yet both funky and sincere); and of course, the Jo Whiley Radio Session version of Macy Gray’s “I Try” (smoldering, measured, perfect). Still, I like “Breathe” more than any of these other tunes.
Yusa is a young singer, song-writer and multi-instrumentalist from Havana, Cuba who’s been called “intelligent and hugely talented” (Pop Matters), “powerful” and “profound” (Global Rhythm) and “modern and soulful” (The BBC Online). According to Public Radio International, Yusa is the daughter of a sailor and an economist—an interesting parental mix which at least partially accounts for Yusa’s eclecticism, or as PRI put it, her “different kind of tastiness.”

Strangely enough, given that Yusa is so often hailed for her compositional skills, “Breathe” is one of the few songs from the Breathe album that Yusa didn’t write. Instead, the tune was written by Cuban ex-patriot and current Miami, Floridian Descemer Bueno who not only co-produced Yusa’s album, but is also a solo artist in his own right. I sampled Descemer’s major-label debut release Siete Rayo (Universal Latino - 2005) but found it not to my liking at all. The music is relentlessly high-energy and way over-produced…not my thing at all. “Breathe,” by contrast, is, if anything, under-produced. It drifts along in an almost obsequious fashion that suggests cool autumn mornings, daydreaming about past lovers and quality literature. Truthfully, it sounds like a demo, although a great one.

The spoken asides (in English; the sung bits are in Spanish) sound authentically incidental, although I know they probably aren’t. Both Descemer and Yusa are conservatory-trained musicians; I doubt that “Breathe” just happened to spring from their collective imaginations one day while they were hanging around the studio. I do like though that it sounds like it could’ve. Yusa’s Cuban accent only adds to effect: pleasure is ‘play-shore,’ eyes is ‘ice,’ and of course (as already made famous by Brian De Palma and Al Pacino’s English-mangling ego-maniac Tony Montana), you is ‘Jew’ and your is ‘Jewer.’

“Breathe” is a mysterious, wistful piece of musicianship that even at four-plus minutes is roughly half as long as it should be. It always ends before I want it to, but, as they say, that’s better than the alternative. While nothing else on the Breathe album sounds anything like the title track, I still recommend the album as a whole. Over the space of thirteen tunes, Yusa adeptly shifts from folksy funk ("Naufragio”/”Shipwreck”) to rock-inflected R&B ("El Fantasma Del Marino"/”The Sailor’s Ghost”) and even throws in one pretty and slinky number ("Canda'o Cerra'o"/”The Case Is Closed”) that sounds very exactly like what we typical Americans would think of as ‘Cuban.’ I think “Canda’o” is intended to be taken with a wink—particularly given the title and its placement in the track listing (it’s the last song)—but I like it anyway. Lots more info at http://www.yusa.co.uk.

 —Mtume ya Salaam

* It just occurred to me that I actually do listen to a lot of new music, but most of it falls outside of the scope of BoL. The reason being: I remain thoroughly disgusted by what both mainstream hip-hop and mainstream R&B have become (and I don’t much care for the self-referential navel-gazing of the indie versions of said genres). Therefore, other than a few specific artists I happen to like (Meshell, Macy, Erykah, Fertile Ground, MF Doom, Peven Everett) I don’t follow new black American music at all. I don’t remember the last time I saw a televised music video on purpose. The new music I do listen to is either ‘international’ or ‘alternative’ or ‘electronic’ or what have you, but is generally not what I, or anyone else, would consider ‘black.’

* * *

black is..02.jpg
Mtume, you stole this one ("You," from Black Is..., Blackout - 2004) from me and I’m some glad you did. As far as contemporary African-American bands go, Fertile Ground is at the top of my list. They are fresh water offering us a healthy sonic tonic, an alternative to the deluge of thousands of manufactured, synthetically-flavored, studio-created musical brews that generally have zero nutritional value in terms of knowledge and/or spiritual sustenance.  Hopefully, Fertile Ground will be dropping a new set soon—and when they do, BoL will certainly let folk know.

—Kalamu ya Salaam

P.S. For those of y’all who don't know why I be calling Mtume "Sherlock Holmes," check out his background investigation that he offers on Yusa. The boy is obsessive about fact-checking—I bet he investigates which is the best toilet paper to use emoticon


     Re: Toilet Paper      

"In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations."
—From The Great Law Of The Iroquois Confederacy

Damn right, I investigate the best toilet paper to use, Baba. And I'm gonna tell you about it. For a couple of years now, I only use Seventh Generation tissue. I'm not going to lie and say it's the softest tissue ever made: that honor (if you want to call it that) goes to Charmin Ultra Two-Ply. But Seventh Generation tissue certainly isn't—how should I put this?—uncomfortable. Not by any means. Comfort issues aside, the real reason to buy it is because it's made from 100% recycled paper, with a minimum of 80% post-consumer materials. Meaning, 80% of the paper used to make the tissue was previously used by actual, real people. (As opposed to pre-consumer recycling which constitutes "re"using lumber chips or other parts of wood or paper products that would've been otherwise discarded.)

According to Seventh Generation, "If every household in the U.S. replaced just one 12-pack of 400 sheet virgin fiber bathroom tissue with 100% recycled ones, we could save 4.4 million trees AND (not or) landfill space the equivalent of 17,000 full garbage trucks AND 1.6 billion gallons of water. So here's the deal: try a pack of Seventh Generation bathroom tissue just once. Even if you don't like and you never buy it again, you'll still be helping to make a difference.

And, BTW, Seventh Generation makes not only bath tissue, napkins, paper towels and other paper products, they also make garbage bags, baby wipes, diapers, detergent for your dishwasher and washing machine and a lot of other household and personal care items. Most grocery stores carry Seventh Generation products, so look for the green and white package next time you're at the store. Come on, y'all. Give it a try! Proctor & Gamble doesn't need anymore of our money.

—Mtume ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Sunday, June 18th, 2006 at 12:33 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.

4 Responses to “YUSA / “Breathe””

ms. b Says:
June 18th, 2006 at 10:26 am

I am really enjoying you…I have to check out more Fertile Ground…I think I’ve liked pretty much everything I’ve heard from them.

Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah Says:
June 19th, 2006 at 6:30 am


I have one remedy for curing disgust about the current state of music, it’s called Morning by Amel Larrieux… Although she may be part of your regular listening, I am still astounded by what I heard in those 39 minutes… I’m still gearing up to write about it…

And lastly a soulful and funky head nod to both of you… I can just hear Tony Toni Tone singing Anniversary to you guys and with some lush strings to boot.


Daika Says:
June 19th, 2006 at 1:10 pm

you guys always put up the wrong songs for download–i like Yusa, but i like Fertile Ground better. the jukebox is 9 times out of 10 way more jamming than the songs for download, but hey, i guess i’ll just have to buy the albums. anyway, thanks for all the wonderful things y’all do…

          kalamu sez:         

1. the fertile ground cut "you" was featured as a download when we first put it up some months back. we do the jukebox so that folk can hear a variety of songs but we’re not trying to give away everything. support the artists. buy albums or downloads. 2. as i said in the write-up, fertile ground is one of my favorites.

Kiini Says:
June 21st, 2006 at 9:35 am

I missed Yusa the first time around! BEAUTIFUL! I love it (Baba, you know what that means! Special delivery please).

i bet her and meshell could make some really nice sounds together.


Leave a Reply

| top |