One of Cuba's Newest Rising Stars

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Thursday June 09, 2016

From Paper Mag

Jazz Singer Daymé Arocena Is One of Cuba’s Newest Rising Stars
By: Grettel Jiménez Singer

Daymé Arocena is one of Cuban jazz’s newest and freshest voices. At only 24 years old, she’s already a singer of staggering range as well as a songwriter, composer, arranger and band leader whose music easily flows between Afro-Cuban ritual chants to classic jazz. Her style parallels that of Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, La Lupe, Celia Cruz, and even Freddy (one of Cuba’s greatest undiscovered singers of the 1950s), but she has is every bit her own artist. Nueva Era, her debut album is a jewel worth being played on a loop. One Takes, her newest EP, is a collection of crafty spins on different covers like Peven Everett’s “Stuck”, a funky and delirious version just in time for your summer BBQ playlists. Classically trained, she grew up playing music everywhere from Havana street corners to jazz clubs. As a faithful devotee of Santería (a merging of Yoruba deities and Christian saints), her head is typically covered with a turban and she dresses in white; her personality is just as striking as her style. When we met to chat at a Brooklyn coffee shop shortly after her first performance in New York City, I was bewitched by her disarming candor, confidence and gusty laugh. We chatted about music, love, body image, fears, future, womanhood, and how to keep it clean, body and soul.

[…] You’re an inspiration for young women aspiring to become the next jazz phenomenon. How do you find your own space in an industry still dominated mostly by men?

My father always told me that if I wanted to understand men, I better think like them. That means to think less, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. On the contrary, women worry too much about everything, and just as in life, on stage that can make you a bit stiff. Men jam away in life and on stage. If a guy wants to ask a girl out, he just does. If the girl says no, he asks someone else. Women are not like that, we have to be extra sure about everything, and sometimes we don’t try something new because we’re too frightened to fail. I try to mimic that impetuous behavior men display and bring it into my performances, taking more risks and worrying less about the outcome.

Your songs are very personal, feminine, and multicultural. They tell the stories of your upbringing, heartbreaks, and even religious beliefs. What is your creative process like?

I take my own failures, successes, happiness, and sadness and turn them into music. “Madres”, the first song in the Nueva Era album is meant to be a prayer for my two spiritual mothers, Oshún and Yemayá, who are also mothers to the rivers and the seas. It’s essentially about mothers and daughters in the world and the strength we need from each other. “Dust”, for example, is about an experience I had once in Canada. I grew up in Havana showering two to three times daily in the summer and still do. If you’ve ever been there in the summer, you know what I’m talking about. We clean the house meticulously on the weekend, and during the week, we sweep the floors and dust the furniture. Well, it turns out that there are other cultures that shower two to three times a week and clean the house once a month if that. I’ve stayed in such a house, full of dust everywhere. So yes, you can say I’m a little obsessed with keeping it clean, body and soul.

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