"'Habra Musica Guajira (There Will Be Guajira
Music)' was the title track on my first Cuban release (in 1988, on the
state-owned Egrem label) and remains very important in my battle to play
authentic Cuban music. 'Son de Tahurete' is also special for me. This
style of son goes back to the period of Cuba's fight for independence
against Spain, and originated in Province Oriente in the middle of the
mountains." (Son combines African and European elements, transforms
them into a polyrhythmic indigenous musical art form, and is the basis
of today's salsa.)
"Hoy No Voy A Trabajar (Today I'm Not Going to
Work)" is noteworthy for the playing of Cuban jazz great Arturo
Sandoval on trumpet. Albita's group opened for Sandoval on
her very first US tour, and the two expatriate musicians struck up a
friendship. "I needed a person who could play this descarga
("jam" song style) very aggressively," Albita
explains. "Arturo is the only one who has the rhythm of the
Carnival Cubano, who could play with this flavor and technique."
"Hoy No Voy A Trabajar" mixes conga (a standard Afro-Cuban
rhythm) with descarga. About the lyrics, Albita jokes, "Could you
imagine if my conga player decided he didn't want to work today? I'd be
Most of Albita's group played together in Cuba and
Colombia, before moving to Miami. Julia Sierra is Albita's musical
director, and wrote two songs on "Dicen
Que..."; she is also one of the
only female tres players in the world. Albita describes Julia as
"a unique musician with a great capacity for understanding who
captures where I want to go musically...I am proud to have her as my
closest friend as well as my musical director."
Mercedes Abal is Albita's flautist. Pianist Vivianna
Pintado and bassist Mandy Gonzalez are also long-time members who came
to the US with Albita. Newcomers to the group include trumpeter
Eduardo Leal, trombonist Jorge Dobal, and percussionists Fernando Pina
and Ramon Rodriguez. All of the musicians are Cuban, and Albita
explains that when she met them, she was impressed by them both
musically and by what kind of people they are.
Albita, who credits her parents as her greatest
musical influence, began playing when she was 15 and first learned punto
guajiro. By the time she was 19, she was the youngest performer on
Cuba's musical television showcase "Palmas y Canas," which is
akin in spirit to the United States' "Hee-Haw."
Albita thrived in Cuba, playing Havana's top
tourist hotels and nightclubs including the famed Tropicana. Her first
album, "Habra Musica Guajira," was released in 1988. In 1991
she was offered a major recording contract in Colombia, for which the
Cuban government allowed her to live abroad, but continued to take a
huge percentage of her earnings. The singer recorded two more albums,
which sold widely throughout Latin America.
In April 1993, at the height of their pre-US career, Albita
y Su Grupo decided to break away. They set up a visit to a recording
studio in Mexico, went to the US border, and casually walked over the
bridge into El Paso, thus defecting to the United States.
Albita settled in Miami, where her performances
in a tiny Cuban restaurant called Centro Vasco soon were attracting
enthusiastic fans like Madonna (who changed the date of her birthday
party in order to be able to have Albita perform at the bash),
Paloma Picasso, Angelica Huston, Marisa Tomei,
Rosie O'Donnell, Cindy
Crawford and Gianni Versace.
Among those fans were Emilio and
Gloria Estefan, whose
Epic-distributed Crescent Moon label released Albita's US debut
album, "No Se Parece a Nada (Unlike Anything
Else)," in June
1995. The singer and her group commenced touring the world, playing
sold-out shows in the United States, Spain, Panama, Mexico, Colombia,
Venezuela and Puerto Rico. Among the high points were a performance at
the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland, a show in Spain with the
Pyrenees Mountains as a backdrop, and festival appearances with
Gil and Oscar d'Leon.
As to her much commented-upon androgynous image of
tailored suits and slicked-back hair, Albita remarks that
"by the second song of my performances, people aren't focusing on
what I look like, but are listening to the music." She adds:
"I am definitely not the typical Latin woman. I'm blond and I'm
thin and that's not a typical Latin look. I like to wear comfortable
clothes when I perform." She recognizes that "people need to
find a reference point to express their impressions of me."
Albita performed the Cuban classic "Guantanamera"
as President Clinton and first lady Hillary danced during their
reelection inauguration in Washington.
The power of Albita's music was the reference
point for the press, which had nothing but the highest praise for "No Se Parece a Nada" and the singer's incendiary live shows. "Her
music is a complete package of vocal skill, poetic beauty and
outstanding playing by a group of young Cuban musicians," The
Los Angeles Times wrote. New York Magazine added: "This
33-year-old is hardly all flash...the punto guajira songs on 'No Se
Parece a Nada' smoothly blend rock, jazz, and more traditional folk
elements into a steamy conga-driven salsa that explodes on impact."
Paper described the singer as "part Beny More, part Marlene
Dietrich," and noted that "from her first song, Albita
shatters the room with the power of her rich, earthy voice."
Hits include: "Mis Tacones",
"Valga el Brillo de Tus Ojos",
"No Ser Parece Nada".