Yerba Buena brings Island Life to the Cradle | Latin Beat | Indy Week
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Yerba Buena brings Island Life to the Cradle 

Food for the ears

New Orleans' finest, Los Hombres Calientes, convened in Raleigh in September from across the evacuation zone: Baton Rouge, Atlanta, Houston. Some were missing relatives; some were playing on borrowed instruments. Most hadn't seen their homes in three weeks. "It's like a bad dream, but I'm very optimistic," says bassist David Palphus. It was their first gig together post-deluge, so the "second line" demonstration that closes out their regular show had more intensity than usual.

Irvin Mayfield and Leon "Chocolate" Brown's trumpet duo took us down to the churchyard with "Just a Closer Walk with Thee." Stephen Walker's trombone wailed and moaned with an inconsolable fury. Ronald Markham's piano trills conjured up the spirits of James Booker and Jelly Roll Morton. When the grief clouds finally opened and the tempo speeded up, out came the sunshine and with it a swell of redemption, just enough for mortals to bear. It was the metaphor which Bush's Jackson Square telecast had appropriated, like a tuba played out of tune according to writer and producer Ned Sublette, turned living flesh in the concert hall.

"People ask us if New Orleans' music is going to come back the way it was, if it's going to survive," says Mayfield. Seeing Stewart Theatre full of people marching in their seats, the umbrellas they carried in due to inclement weather now popped New Orleans style, the answer to that is a big "hell, yeah."

The sugar is good
All the critics seem to be rooting for Yerba Buena to hit it big with their latest release, Island Life. An ironic and sexy paean to the melting pot, Island Life may be a hair less volatile than their spontaneously combustible debut President Alien, listing toward pop and cutting a bigger slice of the demographic pie (cumbia, merengue, reggaeton). But these creolized New Yorkers remain an urban Latin party band to be reckoned with, with an all-star guest roster and a geographically shifty palette of world grooves, masterminded by bassist/producer Andres Levin.

Island Life is all about the tongue. Tastebuds take us on a magic carpet ride on "El Burrito," a new take on the ranchera theme of homesickness. The viper-tongued "Bilingual Girl" triumphs over the material girl using pleasure as her international passport and a little help from '60s boogaloo legend Joe Bataan. That sentiment gets Celia Cruz' posthumous seal of approval on the album's single, "[Give Me My] Sugar, Daddy," a she's-gotta-have-it subway love song with stupid-sexy come-ons delivered by the silver-tongued John Leguizamo. "Bla Bla Bla" delivers a scathing raspberry to the liars of the world, replete with samples of bilingual Bush bloopers. Also on the guest list, there's a fun, dancetronic flamenco track with charismatic singer El Cigala (the de rigeur guest on Latin albums since his hugely successful 2004 collaboration with Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes). M1 from Dead Prez raps to an afrobeat groove on "Fever," and Orishas rap abakua style on a hot tribute to fellow Cubanos Los Van Van.

Four stylish Cuban singers form the backbone of Yerba Buena, which goes a long way to explaining their addiction to flair with fierce substance. The waifishly sexy Cuco (who also models for the album covers) sings pop vocals, and the bewitching, devil-may-care Xiomara Laugart, once a bolero star with her own band in Cuba and more recently a soloist with Kip Hanrahan's experimental Afro-Cuban jazz project Deep Rumba, brings a machete's gleam and hard edge to her signifying. El Chino and Pedro Martinez bring some male sexy to the front line as well. Martinez is a versatile santeria singer, popping up on many jazz sessions, and a prize-wining percussionist--he won first place in a prestigious competition in Cuba. All this talent doesn't have to be making dance records for a popular U.S. audience, in other words, essentially retexturizing pop in a market that tends to progressively flatten polyrhythms into power ballads. A tasty phenomenon onstage, see Yerba Buena live at the Cat's Cradle Oct. 14.

If you saw Bio Ritmo at La Fiesta del Pueblo, you know that the Richmond salsa machine is still smokin' hot these days. With just a few classic covers for spice, they played songs from their latest album, the award-winning Bio Ritmo, plus an opus or two from their 15-year career, and a bag full of blazing new tunes.

On Oct. 6 and 7, Bio Ritmo venture to Shakori Hills as their hottest newcomer in the salsa category. Thursday at the Meadow Stage and Friday in the Dance Tent, both shows begin at 10 p.m. Also in the Dance Tent on Sunday are Winston-Salem's West End Mambo, and Braco, a Santana-style Latin rock band with the same provenance. See for a full schedule and ticket information.

The Ritmo just came off their first recording session with legendary salsa producer Jon Fausty, and are hoping to finish up an EP in the next few months. Getting to work with one of their heroes was "truly a learning experience," says Ritmo sonero Rei Alvarez. "I think it'll open the door to the next level." (For anyone who wants to hear a sample of Fausty's résumé, check out Son Cubano NYC, a recent compilation of music he engineered in the '70s and '80s as part of a virtually underground Cuban roots scene in the Bronx.)

Tito Puente Jr. visits Duke with his orchestra Oct. 20-22. The son of the mambo king who died in 2000, Puente Jr. will perform with the Duke Jazz and Djembe Ensembles in Baldwin Auditorium, Friday, Oct. 21 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5 general admission; advance purchase online at or call the Duke box office at 684-4444.

In local live music, Saludos Compay plays for Wednesday diners at Patio Loco on Oct. 5, the Weaver Street Market Wine Tasting on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 8, and a late night of dancing at Talulla's on Friday, Oct. 14. Con tact to get on their gig mailing list.

Different Drum trio plays the wine tasting at Weaver Street Market at Southern Village on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 15; call 913-1588 for info.


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