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Artist: Albita
Performance date: March 30, 2002
Publication: New York Post

New York Post; New York; Mar 30, 2002; MARY HUHN;

Copyright 2002, The New York Post. All Rights Reserved

Fans of the traditional Cuban sounds found on the "Buena Vista Social Club" soundtrack should check out Albita, who appears at the Blue Note tonight and tomorrow.

The Cuban-born singer/songwriter - whose admirers include Madonna, Rosie O'Donnell and Oprah Winfrey - is known as an electrifying performer. She plays guitar and sings ballads, and gets the audience to sing along.

Albita's at the Blue Note for Latin Jazz Festival, which wraps up tomorrow, even though she doesn't really play Latin jazz but a powerful blend of roots music - updating traditional Cuban salsa rhythms and acoustic country music with modern arrangements.

Albita's fondness for traditional rhythms dates back to her childhood in Cuba, where she grew up on folk and country music. She got her first guitar at age 15. By 19, she had her own spot on the Cuban TV equivalent of "Hee-Haw" and performed in a Cuban cabaret for three years.

When Albita signed to Columbia Records in 1991, she had a huge native following and was permitted by Fidel Castro's government to perform worldwide.

But in 1993, Albita and her band defected - walking across the Mexico-Texas border into El Paso. She landed in Miami, where she began performing in a local Cuban restaurant. Then she performed regularly at Little Havana's Centro Vasco, where she drew crowds, including celebrities such as Madonna, Sylvester Stallone, Liza Minnelli and Marisa Tomei.

She also caught the ears of music mogul Emilio Estefan and his wife, Gloria Estefan. In 1994, Emilio signed Albita to his Epic- distributed Crescent Moon label. He tried to make Albita a crossover star, moving her closer to Latin pop and farther away from her roots. Her "Dicen Que ...," produced by Emilio, was nominated for a Grammy in 1997.

But the 40-year-old musical sensation, who still lives in Miami, reclaimed her Cuban musical roots three years ago with "Son," whose title refers to the rhythms of salsa. When Sony (Epic's parent) rejected it, she changed to Times Square Records to release it.

With her new album, "Hecho a Mano" (Handmade), out May 21, Albita continues to explore the earthy roots of Cuban folk and country.

At the Blue Note, you can sample her tropical tunes - sort of alt- country for the Latin set.

The Blue Note, 131 W. Third St., at Sixth Avenue; (212) 475- 8592.


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