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Cuba's Daymé Arocena Finds Religion Through Music

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Friday June 23, 2017

From PRI

Cuba’s Daymé Arocena found her religion through music
By: Maria Murriel

Daymé Arocena strolls onstage barefoot, beaming as her band primes an audience in Boston for 90 minutes of Cuban jazz.

Her head is wrapped in a white turban and she wears a white dress — the color of Santería, the Afro-Cuban religion born out of European Catholicism and West African Yoruba rituals brought to Cuba by slaves.

Arocena says all of Cuban music is shaped by the rhythms of Santería.

“Santería is the base of Cuban music, basically,” she says. “Every single rhythm comes from the batá drum. So even if you are not singing a chant of Santería, if you are playing Cuban music there is a link with Santería.”

On “Eleggua,” a haunting track off her new album, “Cubafonía,” the Santería link is evident.

At 23, Arocena is a new voice in a growing chorus of musicians influenced by Caribbean Yoruba traditions. She joins Ibeyi — the French-Cuban twin sister duo named after the orisha, or saint, of twins — and Nuyorican rapper Princess Nokia.

Even Beyoncé has evoked Yoruba imagery — dressing like the goddess of fertility in her maternity photo shoot, and her “Lemonade” music videos. But Arocena’s relationship to Santería is different.

“In my case, I’m a practitioner so there is a stronger connection,” she says. “But at the same time, I don’t push myself to write Santería’s music.”

Arocena may practice Santería — she’s a devotee of Yemayá, the orisha of the seas — but she says she does not sing only about her religion. Still, her music inspires her worship.

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