Singer, composer, arranger, choir director and band leader, Daymé Arocena at 22 years, is a skillful, charismatic presence in Cuban music. Her diverse musical talents will take her fast into broader territories. Dressed always in white she is visibly involved in induction into the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria, and sings the chants and song repertoires but also, absorbs music of any kind, particularly jazz and Cuban neo-soul.
Dayme’s family background is packed with music. She has sung all her life and recalls her four-year old self performing on every block in her neighbourhood. Today, she often immerses fragments of rumba rhythms and outbursts of scatting into ‘normal’ songs, injecting singing and chanting drawn from Santeria. “Even though I’m a classical musician,” she says, “At school, I also sang Santeria songs. I studied its beautiful energy, all the elements from the sea, the wind and the earth.”
For two years, her mother and father searched for the perfect instrument, trying out violin, trumpet, piano and guitar. But, she says “I didn’t have the right hands for a piano or lips for a trumpet.” The only one that worked for her was Choir Directing. From there, she began conducting the school choir and that, she believes, came closest to singing; her voice became her instrument. Dayme’s life changed when in her teens, she won an award titled Marti y el Arte in 2007, and aged 14 became principal singer with a big band, Los Primos.
She was advised to explore beyond classical music and listen to the early jazz singers from Ella, Billie and Nina Simone to the wonderful Brazilian icon, Elis Regina. “The first jazz singer I really liked was Ella because she got me crazy when I listened to her scatting.” In 2010, she joined a jazz fusion quintet, Sursum Corda, and performed at a jazz conference in Norway, and later, in Bluefields, Nicaragua.
Just a few years later, her time came with the Havana Cultura Mix project, which saw Gilles Peterson mentoring selected producers from around the world to make a record in Cuba with local musicians. She sung on three tracks on the album, including the massive U Knew Before. Seeing huge potential in her, Gilles invited her to London to perform at the album launch event, where she enchanted the packed out audience, and it was decided she should record a solo project for Brownswood Recordings and Havana Cultura.
Daymé Arocena’s debut album Nueva Era is out now.