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Thursday, February 12, 2009


A Rare Jewel Sparkles: Cucu Diamantes

Written by Washington Post Express contributor Alfredo Flores

CUCU DIAMANTES sure knows how to make a guy feel at home. At the Latino Inaugural Gala, she switched the chorus from "Still in Love" to "Hoy Obama. Bienvenidos a Washington" ("Obama. Welcome to Washington today"), much to the delight of those in attendance. "That performance was like my birthday — so much fun!" said the very excitable Diamantes. "He's all about change, so why not change the lyrics for that concert?" The Cuban-born Diamantes has reason to be excited. Not only did she thrill the crowd at Union Station last month, but after nearly a decade as the frontwoman for Afro-Cuban funk, salsa, hip-hop and Nuyorican boogaloo fusion band Yerba Buena, she's releasing her debut solo album, "Cuculand," later this month. "This album represents my past, present and future," said Diamantes, who will start recording again with Yerba Buena in a few months. "It was a visceral album, and it was the right time to do it." The album's first single, "Algien" (featuring Yotuel of Cuban hip-hop pioneers Orishas), is a delight for the eardrum. A stirring big horn section, clap-along beat and backup vocalists greet listeners with "Ay, mama, Cucu!," and she replies with her trademark high nasal pitch and impressive spitfire rhymes. "It's a fun love song," she said in Spanish. "My friends always tell me that 'Ay, I can never find a perfect man.' I say that's impossible. You have to find a good man and accept his imperfections. Some of us are a diamond in the rough. Look at me; I'm a woman under construction." The album is dedicated to women everywhere, and speaks about topics Diamantes has encountered from being mistreated ("Sentimiento"), being lied to ("Mentiras"), to undying love ("Still"). One of her more soulful and personal tracks is "Mas Fuerte," about moving on after a breakup in which she sings, "I'm stronger than you/I am more worthy than you/And I have a full life where you don't appear." "This album is more Cucu," she said. "It's more about my feelings, my mental state. It's why I called it 'Cuculand.'" At the beginning of her music career, Diamante hung onto her childhood nickname Cucu and matched it with the stage name Diamantes (diamonds) because "it was shiny; it sparkled." This from a woman who, with Yerba Buena, dances around with a guy in a burro costume onstage. "We're all a little bit 'cucu' in our minds, a little bit crazy, sad, happy," she said. "With my shows, you can expect anything to happen, although it might be a little cold to bring a burro out of its stable." » Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW; with Bio Ritmo, Fri., Feb. 13, $15-$18; 202-667-4490. (U St.-Cardozo). Written by Express contributor Alfredo Flores. Photo courtesy Fun Machine. Tagged in Arts & Events , Metro , Music , The District , U Street-Cardozo , Weekend Pass

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