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Reviews Photo: Marcela Joya

Fair, accurate, straightforward

In this place I am no longer the different girl. I am not the only one or one of the few women under 40, as I usually am, we usually are, in so many dance music concerts, Latin and not reggaeton, that take place in New York. This is not exactly one of those, and here, I repeat, I am no exception; I am one among many and the joy of noticing it is not small.

On the stage walks a Cuban woman who thinks "that it is at this moment when everything is at stake": she moves with an air of urgency and boldness. She marks in her steps of white boots up to her knees, the aromatic rhythm of her seduction. She comes to say what many have wanted, what many more for too long have not been able to. She will sing, she will count for them, the believers, the unconditional, the condemned, the mulattoes, the distrustful, the exiled, the abused. She will speak for all of them without condescension or victimhood and sometimes with reproaches, as she does in Her -and by they-his penultimate album.

She comes to reiterate, in case anyone had any doubts, that hip hop can be fracture, open nerve: poetry. She is voice, she is wind, she is word, she is drum, she is shiver, she is the body that welcomes all that. If it is true that what an audience wants to see is "a convinced body, rather than a real passion", as Roland Barthes wrote, in the presence of La Dame Blanche we are the privileged ones whom she tows with passionate corporeality of spirit. No one here is pretending. Neither the audience pretends to listen nor the artist makes an effort to entertain.

Photo: Marcela Joya

Here we are whole. All of them. When the music starts, at about eight o'clock, on this spring Friday night and in this intimate Brooklyn venue -National Sawdust- we are about eighty people, but when it ends we will be almost twice as many. Few and far between. Though I know I say that from my comfortable egotism. Two Parisian musicians - drum and bass - accompany La Dame Blanche on stage and I can't perceive in them more peculiarity than being there, supporting her. But I know I may be unfair, very unfair, because at this moment only she matters to me.

It matters that while he plays the flute he continues to rap and when he sings and raps he sustains and does not diminish the melodic qualities of his main instrument. It matters that since she was eight years old she has been playing this instrument that she now lovingly calls "my best friend".. And it matters much more that the love is well reciprocated.

His influences are important, but only a few at a time, and never so much that we are tempted to compare them. Nina Simone, Édith Piaf, Bola de Nieve, as she says, have lent her certain auras. But Yaité Ramos Rodríguez, a proud Pinar del Río native, is neither addition nor subtraction, she is more and more she and it seems to me that - not without difficulty - he is increasingly distancing himself from certain family legacies, to say in other ways things that matter to him more and more.  

And that they also matter more because of the way they are said, whether in bulería, rap or hip hop, reggaecumbia, cumbia, timba, rumba, reguetón, dancehall or funk. All and none of the above. His voice could be said to be in a category of its own, if we insisted on looking for one. His voice of R's that roll long and as whose musical height is always changing, vibratos and short phrases, and rhymes that are sometimes obvious, sometimes sharp: just, precise, direct.

Photo: Marcela Joya

Do you often go to a concert and get soaked in melody for days? Does it happen often, on the same night, with more than one song? Because I can swear it doesn't happen to me. But this is the second time that La Dame Blanche has left me in the same predicament: I don't let go of their songs even if I try hard. In a few days I will be analyzing Korean Sanjo in a seminar and all I will hear in my head will be La Dame Blanche asking: "What more do you want me to give you if I have given you everything/ what more do you want me to give away if I have given away everything/ I don't have any more bills or a piece of clothing or a damn thing/ I only have this vice left that I don't know how to pay for"?

It matters that I have never looked at the lyrics of the song, as I used to do when I was a child in order to sing along with the booklets on the CDs. I have listened to Atomic, his latest album, which closes with What more do you want me to give you? maybe three times as many, but my memory is not extraordinary. Easy forgetfulness, and that's why it matters that it's not about me: it's about her. She, who not only has the gift to overturn rhythms that manipulate feet, shoulders, heat and hips, but also to write melodies that come to you to stay.

It matters that this is an art of enormous difficulty. That today we will hear the condemned and The Unconditional and PoisonFor example, and it will be more than clear to us -and as a lesson not to be forgotten- that if his "wings are difficult to clip and his mouth difficult to silence", his voice is impossible to let go.

Photo: Marcela Joya

It doesn't matter now, I would like to think, whose daughter, goddaughter or niece she is. Or maybe some of us care more that she is known to be a daughter of Ochún, that she defines herself as "santera from head to toe", for all that this belonging means for her music, spirit and presence.

Does it matter that there are very few Cuban women and fewer Cubans here right now? I can't say.

I know some people who don't know who she is, just as the most studious non-Cubans in this city have never heard of her. Or if they have heard her, they do not come to her concerts. I don't know their reasons, but I know that others, on the other hand, would not stand her: she is everything they have not wanted a woman, a Latina, to be on a stage.

That matters more than some would like to think. It matters, however, that she cares about us and for more relevant reasons than selling records and box office at her concerts. That is also why she fills our mouths with rum and invites us to dance with her on stage. Although some might think, of course, that it is only part of the showLike someone who repeats the same jokes because she knows they will bounce back with laughter, like someone who has relied for decades on her immovable repertoire. But what happens with her transcends the show, because it would not take any of that for us to feel a fundamental part of the music, of its message, embrace and intention. I don't think the same could be said of so many others, if one day they were to dispense with their "effective" formulas.

Photo: Marcela Joya

Dame Blanche, on the other hand, even has more than enough tricks. Or not, perhaps they come to amplify those virtues that -I repeat, in case I have not made it clear- begin in her musicality and expand to her thriving presence. We do not follow her as devotees in love with her manifest beauty, but as equals who admire and with soul and mind are grateful for her art and her work.

I appreciate, for example, how she thanks and celebrates her teachers: not by repeating what they did before better than anyone else, but by incorporating with subtle taste some legacies in her own voice. So we repeat "sugarrrrrrr" with the R's a little rolled when La Dame Blanche suggests it, and we become part of a chorus that doesn't pretend to reproduce anything that Celia Cruz did perfectly before. No quimbaras, no cúcalas, no yerberos -thank you very much, we are fed up with that-, no tributes that seem more like exploitations and so many Latin singers continue to invoke as formulaic prayers.

No. La Dame Blanche is, in the face of this, a cure and a medicine: good poison against exploitation. Nothing contradictory if it emanates from her. And there is an answer, I suppose, to that question that does not stop its spirited ringing. What else do I want her to give me? That's what I want. Your good poison: more words, more presence, more music please.

Photo: Marcela Joya

Marcela Jewel Marcela Jewel He knows how to do useful things, like cut other people's hair and get others drunk, but he prefers to listen to music, write and take pictures. In that order. More posts

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