Daymé Arocena channels the Santería tradition through classical and jazz
Daymé Arocena believes that a musical journey has always been linked to her life.
Her mother even claims that – during her early days in her hometown of Havana, Cuba – she “sang before. [she] could even speak.
Noticing her daughter’s interest in music, Arocena’s mother took her to piano lessons. As Acrocena explained, the piano and her voice are the instruments she mainly focuses on today.
“The piano is my best friend,” the singer said.
After starting the classes, Arocena got involved in her community choir. From then on, all signs were pointing to music.
Arocena joined a music conservatory at the age of 10, where she studied choir conducting, and would also continue to study the practice as she progressed in her musical career.
Today, Arocena is a singer, songwriter and conductor with all her heart.
She has accumulated numerous recognitions, distinctions and awards, such as the Marti y el Arte prize, which she received in 2007.
The singer-songwriter has released three full albums. His debut in 2015 Nueva era, 2017 Cubafonia, and Sonocardiogram in 2019.
At Sonocardiogram, Arocena channeled Santería and Afro-Cuban culture to create a narrative exploring her own freedom of mind.
Arocena also released a collection of covers in 2016 – titled a take – which were originally created for a documentary.
The singer took NPR‘s Tiny Desk the same year.
Arcoena’s talent goes beyond his interpretive capacities, as highlighted in his Tiny Desk concert. The multi-talented musician has also made a recent leap into the world of education.
Last month, Arocena released a collaborative video series with the Library of Congress.
The series tackles topics such as vocal improvisation, musical composition, Afro-Cuban influences in music and rhythm, and tips for emerging artists.
The video series follows a virtual concert created for the Library of Congress, a performance rooted in jazz fusion, Santérien chants, Afro-Cuban rhythm and contemporary R&B.
Daymé’s musical journey
A student at her conservatory, Arocena evolves in a musical environment dominated by the study of classical European pieces.
The singer explained that students of conservatories in Cuba are not often introduced to work outside the fields of European classical and that Cuban music, jazz, contemporary music and pop music have not been addressed.
“Anything unrelated to the European classic, you had to find it on the streets,” Arocena said.
Still, Arocena has a strength in classical music as well as in jazz. At 15, Arocena discovered jazz.
When she was studying music in her native country, Cuba did not have internet access and Arocena had never had a computer in her previous studies.
It wasn’t until 2019 that Cuba got free internet access.
“You never even come in contact with a computer, ever. I have just started using Pro Tools and GarageBand. I used to write my music on paper, ”said Arocena.
After completing her studies at the conservatory, Arocena would soon find herself recording her own music. His first EP, in addition to Nueva era, was released in 2015.
Thanks to the bonds she forged collaborating with hip-hop artists in Havana, Arocena was able to book shows at nightclubs, which later led her to connect with her current label.
Arocena then began releasing music through the London-based label, Brownswood Recordings.
Arocena’s music gained ground, and soon enough publications such as NPR and The Guardian buzzed about his talent and unique ability. For Arocena, the attention was a surprise.
“I wasn’t expecting any of this,” Arcoena said. “I was a very young Cuban girl with a lot of dreams and no idea how the world worked outside of the Cuban bubble.”
Even when people started buying tickets for her shows, Arocena was touched and in awe of the attention she was receiving.
After 2016 a take, Arocena was ready to work hard on a new album, her second full LP, Cubafonia.
Arocena describes Cubafonia like a “journey through the diversity of Cuban music”, but thinks she would need “three or four Cubafonia‘s “to properly create a comprehensive portrait of Cuba’s rich musical landscape in its entirety.
After Cubafonia, listeners expected more rumba and dancefloor from Arocena in later releases. Looking inside the answer, Arocena decided to get more personal for the next LP.
The composer describes Sonocardiogram like a “journey through [her] own personality ”, and said she wanted to talk about herself.
The title itself refers to the EKG and how the process accesses a patient’s heart conditions. Sonocardiogram refers to the same process, only as if one observes one’s condition through a response to sound.
It is not surprising that Arocena is influenced by unique concepts such as an EKG in relation to sound, as the singer also gravitates towards unique artists and people who are difficult to compare with others.
Some of Arocena’s influences include Nina Simone and La Lupe. Arocena describes Simone’s work as “the complex of all things” that inspires her musically.
“I’ll listen to different Nina songs, and I’ll think, sometimes, it’s a different person singing,” Arocena said. “She had the power of interpretation.”
Daymé Arocena, moving forward
Earlier this year, Arocena was scheduled to perform at Berklee College of Music, but the event was unfortunately canceled.
Arocena still hopes to move forward with their plans to perform at the Berklee Performance Center in the near future, but recording the music is now a priority.
Arocena plans to travel to Puerto Rico soon, where she will record her next album.
She revealed that this record will be a bit more up-tempo than previous releases, and will channel dancefloor influences: another change from her previous LP, and a reflection of our current state.
“After more than a year in quarantine, I feel like all I want to do is dance,” Arocena said.