Many women may want to forget about past heartbreaks and lost loves, but Yerba Buena’s front woman CuCu Diamantes cherishes every tear, goodbye, and sorrowful romance, taking her great pains and transforming them into greater art. For her solo debut Cuculand, the statuesque Cubana exposes her personal tales of woe and hope in meeting someone new, giving women everywhere the courage to wear their hearts on their sleeves. Encouraging listeners to take a chance and fall in love regardless of the consequences, she takes inspiration from the cabarets of 1920’s Paris and Berlin, an era when many suffered from the economical downfall of the Great Depression. Just like Diamantes herself, who was born of Spanish, African, Chinese, and French heritage, her solo album fuses international cultures and sizzling, foreign sounds, ranging from traditional Spanish tongue twisters to Punjabi odes of love. Cuculand is an eruption of creativity, worldly beats, and real-life novela ballads, leaving listeners weeping, cheering, but best of all, dancing.
Just before Diamantes performs at Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom on Thursday, March 19, she speaks with nocheLatina about going solo, the struggles that continue to haunt her, and why everyone will suddenly go cuckoo for Cuculand.
nocheLatina: After so many years of working with Yerba Buena, why did you choose to go solo now?
CuCu Diamantes: Yerba Buena is going to make more albums. I am still with Yerba Buena. I am Yerba Buena. I decided to go solo now for the next few months because I wrote these lyrics and this was the perfect timing to do my record. My lyrics are too personal and are about my past and private life. Yerba Buena is a collective, so I couldn’t do these songs with them because it’s two separate things. Everyone puts a little bit of their own thing in it. Cuculand was my state of mind. These are the things that I’ve experienced in the journey of my life for 10 years.
nocheLatina: You just mentioned that a lot of your songs in Cuculand are about your private life. Which song was the most personal to write for you?
CuCu Diamantes: I think all of them. Even ‘Mentiras,’ the only song that doesn’t talk about love. ‘Mentiras’ is about seeing someone and you know you’re never going to see that person again. You don’t want the moment to go away, you just want to stop time. ‘Mas Fuerte’ is about when you’re in love with somebody, but that person is playing with you emotionally. We are living in a time where people prefer to be on computers than to take the risk of falling in love and I think love is one of the most amazing feelings life can offer you. That’s why I’m talking about love in my record because love has always been a big issue in my life.
nocheLatina: I read that you wanted to do a cover in style of the cabarets from the 1920’s in Paris and Berlin. How has this era impacted you?
CuCu Diamantes: It’s funny because the photographer of the cover was super excited to bring this whole scenario to life, but I’ve been realizing lately that this era fascinates me artistically. I love the 1920’s with Josephine Baker. This era and all its writers, painters, and entertainers amaze me. Sometimes I wonder how exciting it would be to go back in time to the past and live there. I also think that my record, just like everyone’s life, is a tragic comedy. We have happy moments, sad moments, and I see every song like a theatre piece and they have the tragic comedy of life, like a cabaret.
nocheLatina: Are we going to see a lot of that cabaret style at the Bowery?
CuCu Diamantes: Yeah, I think so. Whenever I sing a song, I always go back to the time when I first felt those feelings that inspired my lyrics, so I think you’re going to see that.
nocheLatina: Yerba Buena has always been recognized for fusing all these cultures in music. Why does it continue to be so important to have all these different backgrounds in your music?
CuCu Diamantes: My persona belongs to the universe and I love every culture. I don’t know if you know, but in ‘Still in Love,’ I’m singing in Punjabi. I want to learn more because I’m very hungry for knowledge. That’s always been our philosophy in Yerba Buena. I’m Latin, I’m very proud of my roots, I’m Cuban, but I want to learn, I want to be part of every place on planet earth. We have so many things here on earth to learn and appreciate. We live in a very global society, so that’s the beauty of it. For me, that’s my motto, ‘Find the differences.’ I love that.
nocheLatina: Out of curiosity, I know that you mentioned that you’re a really big fan of Josephine Baker. Have you ever been to Chez Josephine on 42nd street in Manhattan?
CuCu Diamantes: I think so.
nocheLatina: It’s owned by her adopted sons.
CuCu Diamantes: It’s funny because while I was doing the photo shoot, I chose two stylists and I received Josephine Baker’s original hat to wear! One of the stylists is a friend of one of her adopted sons. We chose not to use it because we wanted to do cabaret in a simple way. Also, everything else on the cover except the shoes are vintage. The good thing about this economical crisis is wearing vintage to save money. I love vintage clothes and lots of things from home are recycled. The furniture is from thrift shops and flea markets. I believe we should recycle more of what we use. That’s also the message in my cover. The clothes I wear are totally vintage and if you go to my closet, you’ll see that I have a lot of vintage things. When I stop wearing something, I put it in my suitcase and then in three years, I go back and recycle it again.
nocheLatina: How was working alone different from collaborating with everyone else from Yerba Buena?
CuCu Diamantes: Andres Levin and I had a great chemistry when we collaborated on Yerba Buena’s second album. After that, I told him that when I work on my solo album, I was going to call him and he was going to co-produce my record. I called him up one day and said ‘Are you ready?’ We all connected really well when making my album Cuculand. It was easier doing my album than Yerba Buena’s because there are so many elements there. It was like going to music class or listening to an orchestra. In my record, the songs were all personal. For example, ‘Mas Fuerte’ has a Hip-Hop beat, but in other songs, you can hear a little bit of tango, Spanish guitar, and some ‘50s-’60s styles. I like old school music, but I also like new beats, so I wanted to mix everything.
nocheLatina. I know fellow Cuban Perez Hilton is a big fan of your work and he’s not the easiest person to please. Any thoughts on that?
CuCu Diamantes: I’m happy because I don’t think my album is commercial, so I’m pleased that he’s touched by the record, and I don’t think he liked it because we’re Cuban. I think Cuculand touched him because it’s very sincere, from the bottom of my heart, and organic in the way that I expressed myself. I really like ‘Alguen’ because it’s the ironic song on the record and I used all these tongue twisters from Spain just like a rapper singing, but it’s not rap, it’s singing in rhythm. ‘Alguen’ is ironic because it’s about being in love with someone, but that person doesn’t love you and someone else is in love with you, but you don’t care for them. It’s the irony of life because we are individuals who are looking for the perfect someone, but perfection doesn’t exist.
nocheLatina: Tell me one thing that few people know about you.
CuCu Diamantes: I like having an intellectual conversation, but I’m not afraid to be ghettolicious! Oh, when I was a little girl, I was so skinny that I didn’t fit with the aesthetics of beauty in Cuba. People have always said, ‘You’re so skinny! You look like a model,’ but I’ve always been thin and trying to take power shakes and protein while on the road. Yes, I’m skinny, but I would like to be a little more round. A lot of people are trying to go on diets to get skinny, but I find shapely women more beautiful, like J. Lo and Salma Hayek. People wouldn’t think that I do Pilates to keep my Latin curves. A lot of the women in my family have all these curvalicious bodies and I’ve always been the toothpick. It’s something that I still carry with me since being a child in Cuba. You’re skinny here and it’s like ‘Wow!’ I see the beauty of having a skinny body, but in another life, I would like to be more curvalicious.
nocheLatina: It’s amazing because usually girls are the complete opposite, they want to be as skinny as possible, but you embrace curves.
CuCu Diamantes: I think very curvy women are beautiful. If I were a man, I would have many tastes in women. I don’t think I would like skinny women. I appreciate men that like all kinds of women because I don’t think being skinny is the maximum of being beautiful. I believe that idea causes a lot of anorexia and bulimia in girls who have beautiful bodies, but they want to be something they are not. It’s sad and I was even asked if I had those problems because I’m totally small-boned, but that’s my problem. I have small bones and am smaller than a size small. My fight in life is to gain weight!
nocheLatina: For my final question, what do you hope listeners will get out of Cuculand?
CuCu Diamantes: I think people will get passion, the passion of love. Each song has its own universe. ‘Mentiras’ is the only song that talks about being envious, one of the feelings that I most despise in people because I think we all have a path in life and we should be happy with who we are. Being envious is one of the feelings in humans that I can never understand, especially in women because we’ve been fighting in history so much for our rights. We should be a stronger community between us, more supportive. All the songs are about being in love and not ever wanting that time you have with the person to end. There’s even a song in there that I wrote for a friend who had insecurities over a guy and when you hear it, you’ll know which one it is. The message in Cuculand is that we shouldn’t fear life, but instead do everything with passion.
nocheLatina: Thank you for talking to us about your album, I know you must be really busy getting ready for your show.
CuCu Diamantes: Oh yeah, I’m really tired. I’ve been filming the video for ‘Mas Fuerte,’ so I haven’t gotten much sleep. But everyone should come to the concert on the 19th, we’re going to have an amazing time together and there’s going to be an opening surprise that’s about women, so do come early and be empowered.
To learn more about CuCu Diamantes, visit her official site here. Information on her upcoming concert at the Bowery Ballroom can be found here. Check out the music video to her first single, Mas Fuerte, here.