Yerba Buena

President Alien

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Yerba Buena, a Latin/urban fusion project spearheaded by Andres Levin (who's worked with crossover artists ranging from Arto Lindsay to Tia Carrere), isn't too much more than the sum of its parts. Fortunately, however, those parts are certainly astonishing enough to create a breathtaking record capable of hooking fans from some wide-ranging styles: hip-hop, trance, R&B, and of course, Latin music. Comprised mostly of Cubans or natives of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Yerba Buena has a command over Latin forms that erases national boundaries and pulverizes time constraints -- moving deftly from guajira to salsa to son, they're also perfectly adept at incorporating the music of the American street circa 2003 into forms more familiar to farmers in Cuban fields circa 1939. The open-ended character of the jam "Guajira" permits vocals from a traditional Latin chorus as well as nods to urban radio. Lead diva Xiomara Laugart melds house music and salsa with all the power and energy of la India, while rapper el Chino fills in with some solid rhymes and a few party-vocal asides. The band is perfectly fluent and a powerhouse unit, while the roster of guests is startling in its variety -- Carlinhos Brown, Bobby Valentin, Me'Shell NdegéOcello, Money Mark, Marc Ribot, and Roy Hargrove, among many others. In essence, Yerba Buena is simply pulling the same trick that boogaloo popsters and salsafied funksters did during the '60s and '70s (respectively), updating Latin music with touches to intrigue listeners who wouldn't normally be listening to it. In that, they're tremendously successful.

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