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Daymé Arocena: Voice of a Volcanic Heartbeat



Dayme Arocena © Danilo Navas
Cuban Singer, Composer, Band Leader Daymé Arocena - Photo by Danilo Navas

When Jane Bunnett introduced a young Afro-Cuban vocalist Daymé Arocena as the first led singer of her seminal all-woman ensemble Maqueque we knew someone special had “arrived” in the world of music. Even if she didn’t stay long enough with that group to make more than one full album (though she contributes musically to subsequent albums by the celebrated composer, soprano saxophonist and flutist and Maqueque), Miss Arocena’s star has continued to rise. Today, her name lights up the musical universe as never before and electrifies the music of Sonocardiogram as if from the nuclear corona of the very sun itself.

That Miss Arocena is now holding court as a solo artist – not only as a singer, but also as a composer – is a further testament to her, not simply as her mercurial growth, but perhaps a sign that she came with an already a full-formed genius when she was heard with Maqueque. All she seems to have needed was a platform from which she could project herself and a microphone to the digital realm into which she would record her music for the world to listen. This she has acquired at Brownswood Recordings, the British label that has also been growing in leaps and bounds.

Daymé Arocena: Sonocardiogram [album cover]
Daymé Arocena: Sonocardiogram [album cover]

There is something else special about Miss Arocena’s art. As an Olorisha (or Santera) Miss Arocena is nonpareil. She seems to command the portals of traditional worship like the great priestesses of Santeria and Lucumí traditional healing practices even when she isn’t practicing such rituals (as on the music of this disc).

However, what she does on Sonocardiogram is to raise the level of her music art to the heights achieved by men with a longer standing in this realm – even such men as the doyen of them all, Román Díaz, and the explosive Pedrito Martinez. Like them Miss Arocena’s ability to invoke (such goddesses as) Oyá, Ochún and Yemayá is not only palpable, but she delivers her invocations with enormous power, poise and stylistic grace.

Magically while all of this is under way, Miss Arocena is also able to indulge in lyric moments that are infallibly gorgeous. And with the finely-textured balance of this superb quartet behind her the music of this album raises the level of her art to an extremely rarified realm. Through it all her musicianship is dramatically convincing even if and when (and there are fleeting moments during some soli on this disc) others may falter.

The music of this disc is divided into four parts; beginning with a craftsman-like “Nangareo”, an invocation and opening to the deeply spiritual-sounding material that is to follow. Miss Arocena sets the tone in the opening bars of this track as her vocals reach such levels of intensity that she provokes comparisons with some of the most powerful singing actress of song – such as, for example Angélique Kidjo and the mighty and smoky-voiced Concha Buika.

Like those two great artists, Miss Arocena also tells a compelling story. Her grip on the narrative elements of song is masterful and she can respond to twists in the stories with tempering her volcanic power with liquid and expressive aria-like grace that is by turns tender, lyrical and ornate as well as fiery and ravishingly vibrant. This imprint is all over the three pieces of her suite “Cinco Maneras de Amar”. Meanwhile she also shows just how playful her music can be as she launches into the home-recording on “Interludio”, which introduces the suite.

Her accompaniment on this recording is quite superb with the musicians fully attuned to her artistry. The presence of two drummers [Marcos Morales Valdés and José Carlos Sánchez] on a few songs, helps build a large rhythmic edifice. Having Jorge Luis Lagarza Pérez on piano, and a bassist in the form of Rafael Aldama Chiroles is pivotal and has an incalculable effect on the rhythmic power of this music.

Most ominously, albeit happily as well, Miss Arocena has age on her side; and with intellect and intuition – vast reserves of it too – there is seemingly only one way for her musicianship and reputation to grow and that is skyward. I, for one, can hardly wait for what she will come up with next.

YouTube Playlist – Daymé Arocena: Sonocardiogram

Track list – 1: Nangareo; Trilogia – 2: Oyá; 3: Oshún. 4: Yemayá; 5: Interludio; Suite “Cinco Maneras de Amar” – 6: Porque tú no estás; 7: Para el amor: Cantar! 8: As Feridas; 9: Menuet para un corazón; 10: Not for Me; A Difuntos Presentas – 11: Plegaria a La Lupe; 12: Homenaje

Personnel – Daymé Arocena: vocals and backing vocals; Jorge Luis Lagarza Pérez: piano, keyboards, vocoder and backing vocals; Rafael Aldama Chiroles: bass; Marcos Morales Valdés: drums (2 – 4, 6 – 9); José Carlos Sánchez: drums (2 – 4, 10 – 12)

Released – 2019
Label – Brownswood Recordings
Runtime – 40:49

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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