Daymé Arocena’s outstanding second album, Cubafonía, can be summed up in two words: maturity and intensity. The former can be evidenced in her approach to song-writing and arranging. It is bold and with a take-no-prisoners attitude. Opener Eleggua combines multi-layered vocals with looped bass and horns. This is followed by a lively party number, La Rumba Soy Yo. Scatting her way through parts of the song, Daymé reminds the listener that she is a pretty good jazz singer in her own right.
The intensity is found throughout the record, mainly in the first six tracks. Lo Que Fue builds up slowly, starting with Daymé’s signature low rasp and ending with a Cuban descarga. Maybe Tomorrow (sung in English) deals with hope. Infectious Negra Caridad is a throwback to Cuba’s 1940s and 50s big band golden era. That a 24-year-old can hold her own belting tunes that the great late Celia Cruz took years to master, speaks volumes about Arocena’s standing in the Cuban musical scene at the moment.
The largest island of the Caribbean has always been a hotbed of creativity. However, for the last twenty-odd years the sounds coming out of my country of birth are more boundary-breaking and genre-defying than ever. Daymé joins Roberto Fonseca, Yusa, Danay Suárez and Telmary in the search for an identity which, although still recognisably Cuban, is not afraid to draw from other influences. A good example of this is Cómo, a ballad that would not be out of place in a record by Jill Scott. Performed confidently in both English and Spanish, the track shows off Arocena’s softer and more reflective side.
Special mention to Ángel, a minimalist composition (pared back percussion and piano) in which Daymé demonstrates a total vocal control. And also to the closer, Valentine (in which the chanteuse goes from English to French, to Spanish), a cute changüi number.
Cubafonía is a must-have for any jazz/Latin music aficionado. On the strength of this outing, I can only see a brighter future for Daymé Arocena.