The artist The Guardian has hailed as Cuba's finest young female singer is Daymé Arocena. Something of a prodigy, Daymé began singing at an early age and went to study at a conservatory at nine. At just 14, she became the lead singer of Los Primos and became part immersed in Havana’s jazz scene. Her first foray into jazz was tackling the classic song, “My Funny Valentine.”
Deeply rooted in Afro Cuban music and spirituality, Family gatherings were filled with music, with her mother and grandmother singing to the accompaniment of uncles playing tumbadoras (conga drums). After she finished her musical education, she formed an all-girl band named Alami. Daymé met Canadian saxophonist Jane Bunnett at Havana’s Jazz Plaza festival. The two eventually collaborated on Maqueque, featuring other female musicians from Cuba.
In May 2014, British promoter Giles Peterson traveled to the island and encountered a barefoot Arocena, clad in white, at an open-mic session. That led to her being featured on four songs from Havana Cultura Mix: The Soundclash. Her debut album, Nueva Era, on Peterson’s Brownswood label, released in 2015, followed by the EP, One Takes, the following year.
Her follow-up, Cubafonía, came two years later. Working with mostly other Cuban musicians, the record highlights the traditions of the Afro-Cuban musical culture even more than its predecessors. After all of her explorations, Pitchfork notes that on Cubafonía, “There is a sense of gratitude in her delivery—and perhaps some relief—to have wandered but finally returned to where her heart is freest, to her valentine, to Cuba.
La Rumba Me Llamo Yo
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