CuCu Diamantes' solo debut CUCULAND is at once a breath of fresh air and a nostalgic whiff of a more glamorous time. It shimmers with the glitz and glamour of an era when catching a show meant dinner jackets and hair tonic, evening gowns and diamonds. But it also bares its teeth and bites down on the modern sounds of New York City's streets, and if you close your eyes a sudden almost tangible perception of the faint smell of tastefully applied Chanel can just as quickly become the steam rising from the sewer grates down in the Village, and all within the very same song.
Producer Andres Levin, with whom CuCu formed Yerba Buena, says of multifaceted artist, "she's such a complex entertainer. She's funny, she's sexy, she's glamorous and she's ghetto."
All of which contributes to the Cuban songstress' charm, which, along with a sharp wit and a style all her own, made her such an integral part of Yerba Buena's success.
But after the group's tremendous success over the span of 8 years,
including a Grammy nomination and a long and distinguished list of
groups they shared the stage with, including Dave Matthews, Ray Charles
and La Reina de la Salsa, Celia Cruz, the time has come for the singer,
songwriter and actress to foray into solo work. And it's a role she
assumes eagerly and effectively as she claims the limelight for herself
"Yerba was her project," points out
Levin, "but there were nineteen people in the band, you know. So this
is the first time the spotlight is really on her."
It's a spotlight well deserved.
NT: Let's talk about your solo debut, CUCULAND.
I wanted to do my cover in the style of the great cabarets in the
1920's in Paris and Berlin. And at one point, I said, "wow, it's funny
because we're close to a depression, and I'm doing a cover from that
NT: After listening to the record, I think it's the only
right way to go. It reaches back to that era, but still has modern
CuCu: Right, people who have heard the record seem to
understand it's a mix of old fashion with new fashion. You know, and
my voice is very Cuban, so that's the Cuban flavor. But on the tracks
I'm trying to bring all kinds of music. Like "Mas Fuerte" is a little
bit milonga with a hip-hop beat, and 60's guitars. [Laughs] Some
people call it Tarentino rock, but it's not. It's 60's. And it has
the feeling also of a bolero. So that was my idea to bring together
the old school with the new school.
NT: It works well, and it's not forced. It seems very natural.
CuCu: So, you as a man, did you get the lyrics?
NT: I think so.
The lyrics are a lot about despecho (heartache) and amor. I've fallen
in love many times in my life, but I've had lots of fucked up
relationships too. Sometimes a person was in love with me, but you
know you may be in love with someone, but playing with them
emotionally. And those things happen. So this was un pasaje por mi
vida (a passage through my life).
And then there's "Mentira",
which is not about love. It can happen to anyone too, and it can be a
man or a woman. Like when someone wants to live your life, and they
don't realize they have a path to follow in life. And they have good
luck too, but they're always focusing on your life. They tell you,
"Oh, you have good luck. I don't." But when those people get
opportunities in life, they fuck it up. Because when the good luck
comes to knock, it may have left because they weren't paying
attention. So the lyrics there are about that. But mainly [the
record] is about love and my love experiences, and it's a little bit
NT: Was the approach to writing this different?
I think it was easy because I was writing about my personal life. When
I'm writing with Yerba it's a collective and we have to share. So you
have to put your ego a little bit behind.
But I'm a very
independent artist and I believe in letting things happen organically.
I never pushed or rushed to make this record. I waited for the right
time, and then said, "Okay, I want to make my record now."
NT: You worked with Yotuel (from Orishas) on CUCULAND.
We co-produced the record together, Yotuel, Andres and me. I chose
Yotuel because Andres kind of mentored him in producing, and he's
learned that. And when Andres did El Kilo, we did the cover of
"Candela" and the chemistry between the three of us was so amazing I
said, "when I go to do my record I'm going to call you, because I want
to collaborate with you." It was fun. We were like three little kids
in the studio.
NT: You've also done a lot of work for social
issues, like Red, Hot + Latin and Red, Hot + Riot. Tell me about your
involvement in those projects and any others you may be working with.
Why do you think it's so important for artists and individuals in your
position to work for social consciousness?
CuCu: Sometimes we
live in our own universe, so we aren't aware of the reality. Our
reality is not bad. There are realities that are really bad. And el
granito de arena (the little grain of sand) that I can put, I'll put it.
did a video for Amnesty International, where we took a song from
Aterciopelados ["Cancion Protesta"] and several artists wrote lyrics.
And it was Natalie Merchant, Aterciopelados, Julieta Venegas, Stephen
Marley, a kid who has become a rapper, but we was in Sudan and
guerillas killed his parents and he became a guerrillero. So he was
killing people from the age of 7 until 14, and Amnesty International
rescued him from there and took him out. The song's called "The Price
of Silence". Amnesty International did it for the 60th anniversary of
United Nations' declaration of human rights.
I'm also going to support women's rights, for abused women.
NT: And you have a concert scheduled for Miami on April 25th at the North Beach Bandshell. What can fans look forward to?
Surprises! I have a list of things I want to do. But I can't tell you
because until they're a reality, you know, I don't want to say them.
They're a work in progress. And I'm a woman under construction, every
day learning more. So there will be plenty of surprises. Probably not
the full list, because there are budgets and I'm not Britney Spears
[laughs]. I mean, I don't want to be Britney Spears, but you
understand. But I'm preparing a show.
You can expect a live cabaret. What you saw [Thursday] was a private party. I'm not sure what you wrote today
[laughs], but I'm curious to see. You're the first person to write
about the show! But the concert will be a much different experience.