At just 22 years old, Daymé – a singer, arranger, composer, and choir director is already a veteran presence in Cuban music, and is fast gaining international profile. She says she has sung all her life and recalls her four-year old self performing on every block in her neighbourhood. ‘Fun stuff,' she says, ‘wearing crazy dresses and singing like a rumbera.
She has been performing semi-professionally since the age of 8, and became lead singer with the big band Los Primos at 14. She has performed with Winton Marsalis, and was invited by the Canadian saxophonist Jane Bunnett to perform in Canada.
Last year she appeared on 3 tracks on the Havana Cultura mix project which saw Gilles Peterson mentoring selected producers from around the world to make a record in Cuba. Seeing huge potential in her, Gilles invited her to London to perform at the album launch event, where she enchanted the packed out audience, and it was decided she should record a solo project for Brownswood Recordings / Havana Cultura. The announcement brought out a loud, rich, infectious laugh instantly recognisable as Dayme's deep and chocolaty voice. "My first record, here," she squeals. "It's a crazy dream."
Daymé first came to the attention of François Renié, Communications Director at Cuban rum maker, Havana Club and founder of the Havana Cultura platform (which co-produced the Havana Cultura album series with Brownswood Recordings) in 2008.
He recalls "Gilles and I met Daymé for the first time on Gilles' first trip to Cuba, with Edrey [from Grammy nominated Cuban band, Ogguere] improvising a rumba session at a friend's place. She started to sing and we were amazed. She was just a teenager". Considered too young to appear on the early Havana Cultura recordings, she nonetheless stayed on Gilles' radar on his subsequent trips to Cuba.
He recalls "I was knocked out at her professionalism and people connection. She is so many things – a serious artist who knows exactly what she wants musically. I love her purity – she is deeply spiritual, and involved in her Santeria studies. She is also a total laugh! Yes, Daymé is the truth…"
Recorded in just a few days in London and Havana, Daymé's debut album is a work of elegant maturity, showcasing Daymé's mix of influences. Her background as a choir director is in evidence on the wonderful layered vocals on tracks like Nueva Era, Niño and Madres. Madres also alludes to the Santeria chanting that has formed part of Daymé's worship since childhood, the Yoruba and Spanish lyrics venerating her two mothers in her religion Yemaya and Ochun. "Even though I'm a classical musician," she says, "at school, I sang Santeria songs. It's the official Cuban religion for me; I studied its beautiful energy, all the elements from the sea, the wind and the earth."
The lead single Don't Unplug My Body shows off Daymé's skill at writing an easy-on-the-ear pop tune, whilst there is humour in El Ruso (about her mother being forced to learn Russian in the Soviet supported Cuba of the 80's) and in the lament Dust (inspired by Daymé's visit to Canada – she was horrified by the dust in the houses, compared to Cuba where everything is kept meticulously clean).
A strong jazz influence is clear throughout the album – Daymé was advised by her teachers to explore beyond her classical music training and listen to more jazz: "I started to listen to all the old singers even when I didn't like them," she revealed: "I don't want to sound like an old woman!" She liked Erykah Badu and Gil Scott Heron – but didn't understand them. Billie Holiday took some time to grow on her but she eventually she fell in love. She still has the same CD: dirty, battered and precious."But the first jazz singer I really liked was Ella because she got me crazy when I listened to her scatting."
Beautiful ballads like Come to Me and Sin Empezar complete a confident and well balanced longer player. The switching between Spanish and English lyrics hinting at an ambition to reach a worldwide audience with her music. El Ruso was recorded in Cuba and produced by Daymé herself.
For the rest of the record Daymé is backed by a world class London band (Percussionist Oli Savill, Robert Mitchell on piano, and Neil Charles on bass). Production duties are split between Gilles Peterson, his longtime collaborator Simbad and Daymé herself.
Nueva Era is released 8th June.
About Havana Cultura:Launched in 2007, Havana Cultura is Cuban rum maker Havana Club's global platform for the promotion of contemporary Cuban creativity. Its main activities include showcasing the work of artists across various disciplines-including music, visual and performing arts, cinema and literature – through a rich multimedia website as well as the development of cultural projects.
Listen to track 'Don't Unplug my Body' here https://soundcloud.com/brownswood/dayme-arocena-dont-unplug-my-body
Watch the video of Dayme performing 'Don't Unplug my Body' below