Yerba Buena | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Yerba Buena's debut album, President Alien (Razor & Tie), is a dense, thrilling exploration of the ways Yoruban culture has evolved and flourished in New York's melting pot. Neither showy nor forced in its eclecticism, the band draws its power from a blend of countless overlapping street sounds, from Nigerian Afrobeat to Afro-Cuban jams to Spanglish hip-hop. Leader and producer Andres Levin is a big name in cutting-edge Latino pop and rock--he's produced records by Aterciopelados, Moreno Veloso, Carlinhos Brown, El Gran Silencio, and Ely Guerra, among others--and his fingerprints are all over this mighty dance band's work. Cuban son is the music's ultimate foundation, but it's integrated with so many complementary rhythms--cumbia, drum 'n' bass, Fela-style funk, mambo, hip-hop breakbeats--that to pick out the components is to miss the point. A sublime array of guest musicians appear on the album--from Meshell Ndegeocello to Marc Ribot to Dead Prez MC Stic. to a slew of topflight jazzers--but the core ten-piece is impressive enough on its own. Throaty Cuban diva Xiomara Laugart is the focal point of the group's raucous live show, but this bacchanalia of rapping, extended soloing, infectious chants, and peripatetic grooves offers something for everyone. Saturday, July 12, 7:30 PM, Spirit of Music Garden, Grant Park, Michigan between Harrison and Balbo; 312-742-4007. Sunday, July 13, 8:15 PM, Chicago Folk & Roots Festival, Welles Park, 2333 W. Sunnyside; 773-728-6000.

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