CuCu Diamantes Debuts In 'CuCuland'

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NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Cuban singer CuCu Diamantes about her debut album, CuCuland. Diamantes is of Spanish, African, Chinese and French heritage, influences which can be heard in her music. She is also the lead singer of the Grammy-nominated band Yerba Buena.

Ms. CUCU DIAMANTES (Singer): (Spanish spoken)

(Soundbite of applause)


CuCu Diamantes is a singer with the New York fusion band, Yerba Buena, or the Bad Ass Latin Fusion Band, as the New York Times called it. But she's taking some time out now to promote her first solo album. It's called "CuCuland," in which she manages to whisk the audience away to a world of white-satin mojitos and pink sunsets.

(Soundbite of song, "Mentiras")

Ms. DIAMANTES: (Singing in Spanish)

SIMON: CuCu Diamantes joins us from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. DIAMANTES: Yes. Thank you. I'm here. Beautiful studio.

SIMON: Beautiful studio. Well, thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. DIAMANTES: Thank you so much for inviting me.

SIMON: And may I ask, the name CuCu?


SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. DIAMANTES: Why my name?

SIMON: If you don't mind, yeah.

Ms. DIAMANTES: I mean, my name is 0 some people think when I say, introduce myself and I say, my name is CuCu, they think it's K-O-O-K-O-O. And I say, no, no, it's C-U-C-U. And even my alter-ego name. So what I like, you know, about my name is when I introduce myself I always bring a smile or a laugh on people's faces. So it's positive in a way.

SIMON: Now, you grew up in Havana, right?

Ms. DIAMANTES: Yeah, I grew up in Havana. I, you know, started art school there, I moved to Rome, I did the university in (unintelligible), Roma. As soon as I finish, I decide to follow my passion and come to New York and do music. So it's funny, when I came here to the States, we are more racially integrated here than Europe.

I come back from Paris, and you see still they have African neighborhood with the Arab neighborhood that they are not really integrated. When you go into that neighborhood you see only them. You see a couple of French people but, you know, it's not integrated as America. America's a new country, so…

SIMON: Let's hear a little of your song, "Still in Love."

(Soundbite of song, "Still in Love")

Ms. DIAMANTES: (Singing in foreign language)

SIMON: What's the story of this song?

Ms. DIAMANTES: This song is, you know, can happen to you, to anyone. It's when you try to, you know, to forget somebody because you are in love but, you know, it's not the best match.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DIAMANTES: You know, in the end of the song I'm singing in Punjabi.

(Soundbite of song, "Still in Love")

Ms. DIAMANTES: (Singing in foreign language)

(Speaking) You know, Punjabi's such a beautiful language to create melodies.

SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. DIAMANTES: I mean, for me, it's real easy. So, I start (Punjabi spoken) and I start singing and, you know, the melody came up, like, very organic too, and I was like, wow, beautiful.

(Soundbite of song, "Still in Love")

Ms. DIAMANTES: (Singing)

SIMON: Let me ask you about another song, if I could, please. I think we're going to hear a little of this…

(Soundbite of song, "Alguien")

Ms. DIAMANTES: (Singing in Spanish)

SIMON: Let me just check in our control room: we're not doing anything to speed up the way she talks, right? You're doing that all by yourself.

Ms. DIAMANTES: Yeah, and I (Spanish spoken)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DIAMANTES: (Singing in Spanish)

(Soundbite of song, "Alguien")

Ms. DIAMANTES: (Singing in Spanish spoken)

(Spanish spoken)

SIMON: Oh my gosh.

Ms. DIAMANTES: It's, like, really me doing it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DIAMANTES: Some people say, oh, you are rapping and singing at the same time. And I say, no. You know, I'm singing, like a percussion.

SIMON: Like a percussion instrument, yeah.

Ms. DIAMANTES: Yeah, but singing. But, you know, if you really go back to the roots of singing, many jazz singers did that, you know. I think one of the best woman who did that in a song is Mina(ph). She's an Italian singer who she's been my idol forever.

(Soundbite of song)

MINA (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

Ms. DIAMANTES: I got these old tongue-twisters from Spain, and I did, like (Spanish spoken). It's how you want me to love you, if the one I want me to love you and to love me doesn't love me the way I want him to love me. So it's the paradox of life. Like, we are in the end individuals. The paradox, the contradiction of life is, like, we are not going to love each other the say way.

(Soundbite of song, "Alguien")

Ms. DIAMANTES: (Singing in Spanish)

SIMON: In addition to the great percussion instrument that is your mouth, there's great instrumentalism on this recording. That was your husband?

Ms. DIAMANTES: He's an amazing, an amazing musician. I mean, it's not because we are partners. He can do a record of his own playing all the instruments, even singing, but he's a little bit scared.

SIMON: Little bit scared to sing.

Ms. DIAMANTES: He has, like, a Barry White voice, so he didn't do that jump of singing yet, you know?

SIMON: And the world has room for a new Barry White.

Ms. DIAMANTES: Exactly. I would like to do a record like Nat King Cole did singing -(Singing in Spanish spoken) - but me doing, you know, singing English with a very, very heavier Cuban accent.

SIMON: That sounds charming.

Ms. DIAMANTES: I don't know what (unintelligible) the second record. I think it's going to be "CuCuland 2."

(Soundbite of song, "Vengo")

Ms. DIAMANTES: (Singing in Spanish)

SIMON: Ms. Diamantes, thanks so much.

Ms. DIAMANTES: Thank you so much.

SIMON: CuCu Diamantes' album, "CuCuland," is out now.

(Soundbite of song, "Vengo")

Ms. DIAMANTES: (Singing in Spanish)

SIMON: And this is NPR's WEEKEND EDITION. Do you think I can do that stuff in my mouth?

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