By: Natasha Archary
Singer, composer and choir director, Daymé Arocena intertwines her musical heritage from her native Cuba in a fusion of Afro-Jazz and Neo-Soul. Born and raised in Havana, her conservatoire training saw her being accepted at one of the country’s most prestigious music schools at the age of 9. Meanwhile at home, her day-to-day schooling in folkloric music resumed as per most Cuban households.
Growing up in a two-bedroom house with 21 other people meant that every available surface was scuffed from the rumba rhythms which had been played on them. Her music loving family was a big influence on her decision to take to the stage with her powerful voice. As a child, Daymé was shy, introverted and afraid of singing alone on stage.
She preferred to perform with a large chorus which helped her to deal with her anxiety. This changed when her neighbourhood group began to tour Cuba, and she soon got hooked on the roar of the crowd. Today, the Afro-Cuban singer continues to be moved by fans but her stage has grown immensely. She has gone on to produce music with artists from Russia, Chile, South Africa and Switzerland.
Winning the prestigious Marti Y El Arte Award in 2007, was a well deserved tribute to the artist. ‘CUBAFONIA’ would be considered her first proper album. Her influences are a reflection of the environment that surrounds her. She idolizes La Lupe, Perez Prado and admires the flamenco-indebted vocal style of Spain’s Concha Buika. In Cuba however, cultures have been collided from the beginning and this is what inspires much of her music and singing style.
The significance of Daymé always dressing in white when performing, is a visible reminder of her induction into the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria. Santeria is a spiritual and religious practice that emerged from the fusion of West African influences and Roman Catholicism. Primarily practices by Afro-Cubans. Today, the religion holds a more diverse following.
Her music is rooted in this tradition, with a cacophony of sounds that invoke Santeria deities Yemaya and Ochun – the saints of the ocean and love. This is evident in the dynamical and vivacious basslines and a voice that reverberates through the musical registries of jazz, soul and Cuban rumba.
She began singing with Los Primos Big Band, mentored by Joaquin Betcourt which only deepened her connection to jazz. A few years ago, Daymé formed an all-girl jazz band called “Alami”. Daymé didn’t start the band to begin a feminism movement however and the band was her way of balancing her career out.
Arocena’s Afro-Latina background has been thrust into the international spotlight at a moment when Afro-Latino advocacy movements continue to emerge in the U.S.A and Latin America. Her music does not take a political stance but Daymé hopes for stronger ties between America and Cuba.
La Rumba Me Llamo Yo
It’s not gonna be forever