McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
MIAMI — In Cuba she was a diva of nueva trova and boleros, a singer with great talent whom songwriters vied to have perform their compositions. And when Xiomara Laugart arrived in the United States in 1998, it seemed she would continue her success — first singing with a prestigious Cuban rumba-fusion project, Deep Rumba, then fronting the hot Cuban-funk band Yerba Buena. More recently, she starred in the off-Broadway musical "Celia: The Life and Music of Celia Cruz."
But Laugart has not had the career or the attention that her earlier success and her talent might have anticipated. Her role in Yerba Buena changed from front-woman to one of three singers. A jewel of a solo album, released in 2006 on tiny Chessky Records, got no promotion or attention.
Laugart says she has no regrets about leaving Cuba, although she acknowledges that it has been a struggle to establish herself in the United States.
"The reality is that living here is really hard, you have to fight, because if you stay in the house you disappear," Laugart said from her New York apartment. "This city changes very fast. If you stay in the house for two days, it's like you're not here anymore. Here you have to start from zero."
Laugart left Cuba to perform at a festival in Western Massachusetts and decided to stay. She was brought here by Ileana Padron, a Cuban expatriate in New York who helped bring a number of Cuban artists to the United States. The two women shared Padron's New York apartment, and Padron got Laugart work and introduced her to producer Andres Levin, who put together Yerba Buena. Padron started as a back-up singer in Yerba Buena, but has since emerged as an artist in her own right as Cucu Diamantes, with a new solo album that has received considerable attention.
Juan de Marcos, a renowned Cuban bandleader and producer whose projects include the Buena Vista Social Club and the Afro-Cuban Allstars, calls Laugart the best female singer of her generation in Cuba.
"She has this power the old Cuban divas used to have," Marcos says. However, he says it is difficult for an artist like Laugart to find a niche in the United States. "If you're living here, you become a local musician, and if you don't get a good record contract you can't get ahead," Marcos says. "She's a great singer, but she's a Cuban singer, a jazz singer. She cannot get the recognition of a pop diva."
However, Laugart says she remains optimistic about her possibilities. "We artists are fed by going around the world doing new things," she says. "I am poorer than poor, but I am very lucky because I love my work."
(c) 2009, The Miami Herald.
Visit The Miami Herald Web edition on the World Wide Web at http://www.herald.com/
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.