Daymé Arocena-Cubafonía.

When it comes to music, nowadays, the world is a much smaller place that it used to. Especially when compared to the sixties, seventies or even the eighties. Back then, it was almost impossible to discover music from anywhere other than North America, parts of Europe or Britain. It was impossible to discover the delights of African, Eastern European, Latin American or Cuban music. Eventually, this began to change, after the birth of the internet.

This was a game-changer for record buyers worldwide. So was the changing political climate. Eastern Europe was now open for business, while many countries were now regarded as tourist destinations. People were exposed to different types of music when they holidayed in South America, the Caribbean, parts of Africa and in Cuba. However, for most people, the internet was the start of a musical voyage of discovery.

Suddenly, they were able to discover music from all over the world. Soon, online marketplaces meant that record buyers were able to buy music from all over the world. Record buyers were regularly buying LPs from Asia, South America, Africa and Eastern Europe. This new generation of record buyers had truly  eclectic taste.

Soon, new independent record labels were being founded to specifically cater for the eclectic taste of this new breed of discerning record buyers. They took a different approach to compilations and reissues. Suddenly, record shops were stocking compilations of African, Latin American and Cuban music. For many artists that featured on these compilations, this the big break that they had been waiting for. It certainly was the case for Daymé Arocena, who first came to prominence in 2014 on Havana Cultura Mix-The Soundclash!, which was released on  Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings.

Three years later, and Daymé Arocena recently released her sophomore album Cubafonía on Brownswood Recordings. It’s the followup to Nueva Era, which was released in 2015. Cubafonía  is a carefully crafted and accomplished album from Daymé Arocena, who was destined to become a singer.

The Daymé Arocena story is one of triumphing over adversity. She was born in Havana in 1994, and grew up in a two bedroom house with twenty-one other people. It was far from an ideal start in life. However, it was where Daymé Arocena first heard and experienced the countless different and disparate rumba rhythms. They regularly filled the house, and were akin to a joyous call to dance. From an early age, Daymé Arocena was immersed in the different types of Cuban music. This was the start of her lifelong love affair with music.

By the age of nine, Daymé Arocena had entered one of Havana’s most prestigious, state-funded classical conservatoires. Already, Daymé Arocena had come a long way from her humble beginnings.

As classical training progressed, Daymé Arocena was encouraged to try and learn to play the piano, violin and guitar. Soon, though, she discovered that her voice was the instrument she could make the best use of. Already Daymé Arocena was showing signs of becoming one of the future stars of Cuban music. 

Despite this, Daymé Arocena turned her attention to choir directing whilst at the prestigious classical conservatoire. That was also where she joined several children’s bands. Later, this  included  the fusion jazz quintet Sumsum Corda, which Daymé Arocena joined in 2010. It embarked upon tours of Nicaragua and Norway. However, despite playing fusion, Daymé Arocena never forgot her musical roots. That would be the case throughout Daymé Arocena’s career, which would blossom over the next few years.

Having enjoyed being a member of Joaquin Betancourt’s big band, Daymé Arocena decided that the time was right to form her own band. This lead to Daymé Arocena founding Alami, an all-girl band.

In 2013, Alami were invited to play at the Jazz Plaza Festival by Canadian saxophonist Jane Bunnet. They must have made an impression on Jane Bunnet, who later, asked Alami to join her new project Maqueque.

For Alami, this was the start of a new and exciting chapter in their career. Jane Bunnet and Maqueque collaborated on what became eponymous debut album. It was released in 2014, and won the 2015 Juno Award, in Best Album Jazz category. By then, a new chapter in Daymé Arocena’s career was well underway.

Over the last couple of years, Daymé Arocena’s music came to the attention of a Havana Cultura, which helps to promote  contemporary Cuban culture. Through Havana Cultura, Daymé Arocena  came to the attention of broadcaster, DJ, promoter and record label founder Gilles Peterson in 2014. By then  Daymé Arocena was one of Cuban music’s rising stars.

Gilles Peterson met Daymé Arocena and was so impressed by the twenty year old that he invited her to become part of his latest  project. Havana Cultura Mix-The Soundclash! was the first album from what was billed as Gilles Peterson Presents Havana Cultura. Daymé Arocena played a starring role on the compilation, contributing vocals to U Knew Before, Me Lleva La Habana and Sandunga. One of the highlights of the compilation was U Knew Before, which featured a vocal masterclass from Daymé Arocena. 

After her performance on Havana Cultura Mix-The Soundclash!, Gilles Peterson was keen to sign Daymé Arocena to his Brownswood Records. By then, other record labels had heard about the considerable talents of Daymé Arocena. However,  there was never any doubt that Daymé Arocena was going to sign for Brownswood Records.

Having signed to Brownswood Records, Gilles Peterson became Daymé Arocena’s musical mentor. He would lead his latest signing  through what can be a maze, where pitfalls lurk round every corner. Soon, Daymé Arocena would make her debut for Brownswood Records.

As 2015 dawned, Daymé Arocena released The Havana Cultura Sessions EP, which was her debut for her new album. It featured four songs, including a compelling cover of Cry Me A River. The Havana Cultura Sessions EP was enough for record buyers and those within the music industry to sit up and take notice.

This was the start of what was the busiest year of Daymé Arocena’s career so far. She spent much of 2015 recording her debut album and playing live. It was a whirlwind, that ended with the release of Daymé Arocena’s debut album Nueva Era in late 2015. Nueva Era was released to widespread critical acclaim, and was an important album culturally. 

Nueva Era found Daymé Arocena attempting to redefine Nueva Era what Cuban music stood for. Daymé Arocena was determined move Cuban music beyond what she saw as its stereotypical sound. This was a big ask, especially from an artist who was just releasing their debut album. However, Daymé Arocena had put a   great deal of thought into what she was doing.

Daymé Arocena had a vision for the future of Cuban music. Her classical training has played its part in forming Daymé Arocena’s interconnected vision of Cuban music. It takes its inspiration from the different rhythms and styles that are unique to each Caribbean island. 

These are all very different, but played an important part in the musical development of Daymé Arocena. This includes Changüí, which originated in the Guantánamo Province in the nineteenth Century. It’s an ancestor of modern salsa, which was popular in Cuba during the twentieth Century. Then there’s Guaguancó, which is a sub-genre of the rhumba, and combines percussion, voices and dance. There’s two types of Guaguancó, Havana and Matanzas, which Daymé Arocena was introduced to growing up. It was a similar case with the ballada style that was popular in Cuba during the seventies. Each style of music had influenced Daymé Arocena growing up, and as she embarked upon a career as a singer.

By 2015, Daymé Arocena was already a talented and versatile singer. Seamlessly, she could switch between musical styles, as she revisits Cuba’s musical past and marries them with a much more contemporary Nu-Soul and jazz-tinged sound. Mostly, Daymé Arocena sings in Spanish, but sometimes, she switches to English and even French. This depends upon what the mood and spirit dictates for one of the rising stars of Cuban music.

Buoyed by the success of her debut album, career continued apace. During 2016, Daymé Arocena released an E.P. of cover versions One Takes. It was another showcase for the vocal prowess of Daymé Arocena. So was the second collaboration with Jane Bunnet.

A year after their eponymous debut album won a Juno Award, in Best Album Jazz category Jane Bunnet and Maqueque returned with their much-anticipated sophomore album Oddara. It was released to plaudits and praise in 2016, and the rise and rise of Daymé Arocena continued apace.

The last few years had been a whirlwind of activity for Daymé Arocena. She had played at some of the most prestigious events, including the Jazz Na Fabrica Festival, in Brazil; Les Voix Humaines Festival, in Cuba; the Duc des Lombards and Worldwide Festival, in France. There’s also been appearances in  London, Los Angeles and Tokyo. The name Daymé Arocena is already known far and wide.

This comes as no surprise. Already Daymé Arocena has shared a stage with the legendary Roy Ayers, and with Brazilian superstar Ed Motta. That was one of the proudest moments of her career. So much so, that she left the tears in tears of joy. Other highlights of Daymé Arocena included collaborating with jazz musicians Roberto Fonseca and Yasek Manzano, and with Russian DJ Raumskaya. All these collaborations shape Daymé Arocena’s approach to music, and how she continues to redefine Cuban music.

Although Daymé Arocena continues to redefine Cuban music, she’s extremely proud and protective of her musical heritage and roots. It’s something to be taken seriously, as it’s part of Cuban culture and history. Daymé Arocena is determined to help keep Cuba’s distinct and disparate musical dialects alive. This includes through her own music, including Daymé Arocen much-anticipated sophomore album Cubafonía, which was recently released by Brownswood Recordings.

Cubafonia is a truly ambitious from the newly crowned Queen of Cuban music. It features eleven new songs that showcase the versatility and vocal prowess of a singer who in the future, has the potential to crossover. That wouldn’t come as a surprise, as there’s a soulfulness to Daymé Arocen’s voice, which is equally comfortable singing jazz and pop. Meanwhile, though, Daymé Arocen remains loyal to her roots. 

So much so, that she fuses irresistible Cuban rhythms with chants that are a reminder of Daymé Arocen’s Afro-Cuban Santería faith on the album opener Eleggua. Elsewhere, Daymé Arocen seamlessly switches between and incorporates elements of disparate musical genres during the eleven songs on Cubafonia. They’re guaranteed to toy with the listener’s emotions.

Other songs have a strong narrative, including La Rumba Me Llamo Yo, an energetic rumba guaguancó workout. It tells the story of a woman who embarked upon a relationship her mother warned her about. Later, it takes on a joyous sound, as what sounds like a musical party unfolds. Lo Que Fue is the perfect showcase for Daymé Arocen as she unleashes a soul-baring vocal. Maybe Tomorrow is another soulful confessional, where Daymé Arocen combines emotion and power against a carefully crafted arrangement that features lush strings. Soon, though, Daymé Arocen takes Cubafonía in a different direction.

Very different is Negra Caridad, which references Cuba’s musical past. Especially, Benny More’s big band and the one time Queen of Cuban music Lupe. However, a new Queen has been crowned, and continues to showcase her versatility as her vocal  veers between soulful vocal and a scat on Mambo Na’ Mà, while the band fuse soul, jazz, and mambo that sounds as if it was recorded in downtown New Orleans. Soon, Daymé Arocen  drops the tempo.

Cómo is the first of a trio of ballads. Sonically and stylistically it’s reminiscent of Sade in her prime. That sound is given a makeover, and definitely has widespread appeal. It could be the direction for Daymé Aroce to head in, if she wants to enjoy mainstream success. Todo Por Amor picks up where Cómo left off, and is another beautiful ballad. Completing the trio of ballads is the jazz-tinged and soulful Ángel, which features another soul-baring vocal. After this, the voice of an Ángel changes direction once again.

Genre-melting describes It’s Not Gonna Be Forever, as Cuban  rhythms combine with funk and jazz on this carefully crafted song. Daymé Aroce’s vocal veers between soulful to a scat, as one of the best arrangement on Cubafonía unfolds. This leaves just the understated, folk-tinged strains of Valentine, which comes from Cuba with love.

Cubafonía marks the musical coming age of Daymé Aroce, whose a truly talented and versatile vocalist. Seamlessly, she switches between musical genres, as Daymé Aroce breathes life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics. She’s equally at home on the energetic rumba guaguancó workout La Rumba Me Llamo Yo, as she is on the ballads like Cómo, Todo Por Amo and Ángel.  These tracks feature both Cuban music’s past and present.

Daymé Aroce is immensely proud of her Cuban musical roots, and continues to embrace and incorporate them throughout Cubafonía. That is admirable, as it would be all too easy to change direction musically in pursuit of fame and fortune. After all, Daymé Aroce is blessed with a deeply soulful and velvety voice. It’s perfectly suited to the ballads and more soulful sides on Cubafonía. When it comes to the jazzier cuts, Daymé Aroce is equally at home. She’s one of the most versatile singers of recent years, and proves that throughout Cubafonía. She’s also a singer who has crossover appeal.

It would be an interesting experiment if Daymé Aroce were to record a crossover album of that featured soulful ballads and jazzier songs. Would this be the album that transformed the fortunes of Daymé Aroce and turn her into the next Queen of Nu-Soul? There’s every chance, as Daymé Aroce certainly has the vocal prowess and versatility.

For the time being, though, it’s highly unlikely that Daymé Aroce would even consider turning her back on her musical roots.  Especially considering how popular her unique of music is proving. It’s won Daymé Aroce fans all over the world. She’s come a long way since she left Joaquin Betancourt’s big band. 

Since then, the rise and rise of Daymé Aroce has continued apace. What she’s already achieved must be beyond her wildest dreams. It’s certainly a long way from that two bedroom house that Daymé Aroce shared with twenty-one other people as a child. These days are long behind Daymé Aroce, who has used her talent to overcome adversity, and what must have been a difficult start in life. However, what Daymé Aroce is only the the start of what should be a long and successful career.

While Cubafonía may only Daymé Aroce’s sophomore album, it’s a career defining album from a truly talented and versatile vocalist. It marks the coming of age musically of Daymé Aroce who has already been crowned the new Queen of Cuban music.  No wonder, given the given the quality of music that Daymé Aroce has already released. Her finest moment is Cubafonía, which is a musical Valentine from the new Queen of Cuban music Daymé Aroce, who has the voice of an Angel.

Daymé Arocena-Cubafonía.

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