Cubafonía - Daymé Arocena 
Havana Cultura album series

There’s an explosion of talent in Cuba and a new generation of artists who are replacing the old representations of Cuba with something that’s fresh, modern and forward-facing. With Cuba poised to become more connected to the rest of the world, the Cuban people’s pride in a unique musical heritage has never felt more vital. Arising from that lineage, singer Daymé Arocena roots her compositions in Cuba’s classic rhythms, encompassing the rich, diverse musical make-up of her home whilst looking outward too – to the world she has spent the last two years traveling.
The 24-year-old singer songwriter debuted on the global music scene back in 2015 to critical acclaim, with her first album, Nueva Era. This spring she will release her second album, Cubafonía, and will embark on a European tour, with dates in London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and Berlin, amongst others.
Cubafonía is Daymé’s most polished, fully realised project since meeting her mentor (and record label head), Gilles Peterson, in 2012. Benefiting from Gilles’ expansive vision as a DJ, broadcaster and promoter, Daymé has been nurtured to this point by the Havana Cultura project, created by Havana Club rum – a global platform for the promotion of contemporary Cuban creativity in all its forms, to enable Havana’s artists to show the world what they do, and to let the world see and hear what they have to say about their work, their life and their city.
The reception to Daymé’s music to date has spurred a whirlwind of opportunities: she shared an off-the-cuff live moment with Roy Ayers and Brazilian superstar Ed Motta to leave Worldwide Festival in tears of joy, jumped on stage with Miguel Atwood-Ferguson at his triumphant Suite for Ma Dukes show at the Barbican, and rung the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange with a delegation from Women of the World. She has played shows from LA to Tokyo, charming audiences with her mesmerising vocal range and earthy sense of humour. She name-checks Kendrick Lamar and Anderson Paak as artists she would love to work with.
Despite all that, however, it’s not distracted Daymé from a deep sense of seriousness about her art form; born of a uniquely musical culture, she strives to forge a cohesive musical language from Cuba’s distinct musical dialects. Growing up in a two-bed house with 21 other people, every available surface was scuffed from the rumba rhythms which had been played out on them. It’s a childhood typical of a country where children grow up readily exposed to the island’s numerous, particular rhythms.
That immersive upbringing forms Cubafonía’s starting point. Entering one of Havana’s prestigious, state-funded classical conservatoires at age 9, that rigorous classical training has informed an interconnected vision of Cuban music, where inspiration comes from the Caribbean island’s different rhythms and styles – from Guantánamo’s fast-paced changüí, to ubiquitous guaguancó and ‘70s-style ballada. Sung mainly in Spanish, Daymé drops into English (and even tries out a little French) when the mood takes her. In short, this is heritage music for modern-day citizens of the world.
Interviewing Daymé at the Sound of Cuba showcase at SXSW last year, NPR wrote, “It is hard to imagine a better voice to open her country’s gates” – and it feels like this statement holds true. Ambitious, hardworking, and hungry for cultural exchange that doesn’t compromise the unique flavour of her home country of which she is so proud, it feels like 2017 could be a monumental year for Daymé. She possesses a clear sense of her music’s intermingling influences: “We don't have this native culture,” she explains. “We don't have indigenous people, like Maya or Quechua. They made a country with people from everywhere – that’s what makes Cuban culture so different.”