Albita Comes Alive

The almost manic nature of the record might be a plus when it comes to appealing to a Latin radio market weaned on fast-paced merengue and salsa. "El Chico Chevere" is basically a son, but it has a full sound and an emphasis on horns that makes it salsafied. It's not surprising that Sony chose it for the first single.

"It's more danceable and it has more to do with what's playing on the radio internationally as far as Latin music goes, but I don't know if it's so commercial," the singer cautions in reference to the track. "It's a very Cuban sound. It's the sound that the bands in Cuba are playing now.

"I almost never talk about my albums because I'm almost never happy with them," continues Albita, who recorded two albums in Colombia before moving to Miami. "But I think this is the best one I've ever made. I'm very happy with it." She refuses to predict how Dicen Que ... might fare on the radio in South Florida and in other Latin markets.

"No, no, no," she says when asked about her past experience with radio airplay. "I don't know. With me the radio doesn't -- I think that there are artists who are born to play live," she blurts out. "The radio can get you access to a lot of things, but my success is largely due to my live presentations. I'm not afraid of that. I like it, I enjoy it. People like it and they enjoy it."

Albita has been playing on Friday and Saturday at Yuca on Lincoln Road since January, following her departure from a long-standing gig at Little Havana's Centro Vasco. At Yuca, wearing her mix-and-match outfits, telling bawdy jokes, and singing "twenty minutes of Cuban music ... then twenty minutes of Cuban music ... and to wrap it up twenty minutes of Cuban music" for the gazillionth time, she runs the show.

Her group has grown to eight musicians, from the four who arrived in Miami with her, and Albita is even more visibly out in front -- unmistakably the star. But the routine is much the same as always: The musicians dance in clogs; the female members sing a cappella; Albita encourages the audience to wave red napkins for the Afro-Cuban deity Chango. The crowd of well-heeled Cuban-American regulars -- the ones who know every word to every song -- is now mixed with younger, equally passionate fans, and more out-of-towners have come in since her picture appeared in the New York Times "Arts and Leisure" section last month in a story on Latin entertainment in Miami. Every night that she performs, without fail the restaurant's upstairs bar is packed with about 350 people.

"I think that my destiny is to perform live," Albita asserts, changing into a slinky black sheath for the next scene in the video. "For me, it's fundamental that people see me -- one, two, or three times."

Albita says that a tour supporting the album is in the works; she'll go to Europe, Latin America, and cities across the United States. The singer reports that, to her surprise, over the past year the group has packed New York's S.O.B.'s, Los Angeles's House of Blues, and had a successful appearance at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland. She attributes this reception to word of mouth, adding that people who have seen her show in Miami tell their relatives and friends back home.

"I've always been of the opinion that audiences are the same all over the world," Albita contends, heading out of the dressing room in bare feet onto the studio floor, where three male dancers in guayaberas are waiting to form a conga line behind her. "You just have to know how to tickle them in the right place."

Albita performs on Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 at Yuca, 501 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; 532-9822.

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