Exuding sex from her pores with the rare confidence of a seasoned performer, Havana-born Xiomara Laugart keeps the audience of a packed New York City nightclub under a giddy spell. Cued from her band’s hybrid of Afro-Latin soul, she repeats in a smoothly soulful voice, “Guajira loves the sunshine,” inspiring an alternate reality where Diana Ross and Celia Cruz were once members of one supreme group.
Leggy, slender-framed and with eyes that sparkle like fireworks, Laugart is the most visible member of Yerba Buena, an unsigned 10-piece orchestra packed with star power that is adding a fresh twist to new Latin music.
Yerba Buena, in Spanish, is “good weed” or “good herb,” and like the soothing effects of a potent aromatic plant, the group deals out feel-good dance songs that fortify the spirit while lightening up even the creakiest hip joints. Formed in New York City less than two years ago by multi-instrumentalist/producer Andrés Levín, Yerba Buena is a kind of musical medicine for the new millennium.
Leading up to Yerba Buena’s debut release in late February, the group has enjoyed performing on some of the most prestigious stages in North America. On an early summer night at the New York club S.O.B.’s, Yerba Buena had just come back from opening for the Dave Matthews Band at several East Coast arenas, a milestone that would later be broken by hitting the Hollywood Bowl, Newport Jazz Festival, Montreal Nuits d'Afrique Festival and New York Central Park’s SummerStage.
Known as Dré by his English-speaking friends, Levín works with some of the biggest names in music (Tina Turner, Ricky Martin, David Byrne, Arto Lindsay, Aterciopelados), and benefits from having strong industry connections. He credits his band’s touring success to the William Morris Agency, which got behind his band from the get-go. With or without the inside help, Yerba Buena’s sound would be hard to miss.
Blending boogaloo, cumbia, samba, and hip-hop production on an Afro-Cuban foundation, Yerba Buena blurs continental lines where Fela Kuti-grounded Afrobeat burns with Curtis Mayfield's Superfly and the rumba documented by Los Muñequitos de Matanzas. Levín plans to release the group’s album under his own label, Fun Machine, which he named after his studio and created in the summer of 2002.