Singer, composer, arranger, choir director and band leader, Daymé Arocena at 22 years, is a skilful, charismatic presence in Cuban music. Her diverse musical talents will take her fast into broader territories. Dressed always in white she is visibly involved in induction into the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria and sings the chants and song repertoires, but at the same time, she absorbs music of any kind, particularly jazz and Cuban neo-soul.

Daymé’s family background is typically packed with music. Her grand-mother sings better than her, she says, and after drinks at home ‘sings like crazy.’ Her father is no singer but has stacks of CDs which infused into his daughter’s soul with his favourite, George Benson’s everlasting Breezin’ and its smooth jazz groove.

Daymé 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.’ Rumbas are the street parties in Cuba where you hear its exploding Afro-Cuban rhythms and chants – sometimes in Yoruba. Today, she often immerses fragments of rumba rhythmns and outbursts of scatting into ‘normal’ songs, injecting singing and chanting drawn from Santeria. “Even though I’m a classical musician,” she says, “At school, I also 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. My saint is Yemaya, saint of the sea.”

Gilles Peterson first met Daymé on his first trip to Cuba working on the Havana Cultura project. She was 15 – too young to sing on the record and her religious training meant she couldn’t shake his hand. But a seed was sown. When he returned last year to work on the Havana Cultura mix project mentoring producers from around the world she became the one they ALL wanted to work with. She appeared on 4 tracks on the record and played a packed out London show for the launch of the record – wowing the audience with her warmth.

Daymé Arcoena’s debut LP Neuva Era will be released on Brownswood Recordings on April 13th.

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