Yusa
Singer- Composer

"The reflective subtlety of early Joan Armatrading...looking and sounding like a female Jimi Hendrix...reminiscent of Joni Mitchell...like a vocally dexterous Tracy Chapman with a large jazz collection...Stevie Wonder halfway between Havana and Bahia...Yusa manages to sound like both Gal Costa and Maria Bethânia...."

A random sampling of reviews of her first two albums ("Yusa" and "Breathe") confirms the supposition that Yusa is a musician's musician with something for everybody or, if you prefer, with everything for somebody. She's a virtuoso guitarist, bassist, keyboard-player and percussionist. She's a poet who writes and sings bittersweet songs that will leave you more blissed-out than you'll care to admit. She's jazzy enough to blow away audiences in intimate venues like Havana's La Zorra y el Cuervo and Ronnie Scott's in London; and she's funky enough to go places where perhaps only Me'Shell Ndegeocello has been before.

Yusa has been making music since she was six years old. She studied classical guitar at the Alejandro García Caturla elementary school, and then she made a potentially disastrous career choice. Attending the famed Amadeo Roldán Music Conservatory, she chose to concentrate on a particular type of Cuban guitar called a "tres", for its three pairs of strings. Yusa was the only member of her graduating class to specialise in the tres — in fact she seems to have been the only one ever to do so before or since.

There's nothing particularly onerous about the Cuban tres. The instrument was made famous by Arsenio Rodriguez and his Conjunto ensemble in the 1940s. But in the 1990s when Yusa was at the conservatory, the tres seemed hopelessly wedded to traditional Cuban son music, the kind played by guajiros in country bodegas and rarely, if ever, played by women.

In 1997 the rest of the world got an earful of the tres played by Compay Segundo on the "Buena Vista Social Club" soundtrack. Although Yusa happened to grow up in Buena Vista, the western Havana suburb that gave the Social Club its name, her musical interests had little to do with that music style. And the local music scene didn't seem to be in great need of a tres-playing poet with jazz-fusion tendencies.

Never mind all that. Tres in hand, Yusa hit the bars and nightclubs around Havana. She moved to the electric bass and switched to improvisational jazz with an all-woman quintet called Quasi Jazz. Forming a duo with another musician named Domingo Candelario, she discovered that she wanted to write and perform her own material. As the 1990s drew to a close she had a contract with UK-based Tumi Music to record her solo debut. The result ("Yusa", 2002) enabled her to showcase not just her own uncommon talents but those of her favourite Cuban musicians as well: Pável Urquiza as the musical director, Roberto Carcassés on keyboards, Jorge Alexander Pérez on bass, Oliver Valdés on percussion, and Yusa singing and playing everything you can imagine.

Her second album ("Breathe", 2005) was produced by Descemer Bueno (co-founder of Yerba Buena) and was a cooler, funkier, more laid-back affair. Again she brought together a group of top-notch musicians and performers (Haydee Milanes, Lenine, Kelvis Ochoa).

At the moment she's at work on her third album. What's on the program? "I have in mind a reconciliation with the tres, but we'll just have to see how it all works out."