Album Review: Daymé Arocena – Alkemi [Brownswood Recordings; February 2024]

Words by Lucas Keen


For her fourth studio album, released via Brownswood Recording, Daymé Arocena returns to the Caribbean, choosing Puerto Rico over her native Cuba.

With Eduardo Cabra of Puerto Rican hip-hop group Calle 13 being enlisted for production, the album titled Alkemi nods to the musical alchemy unfolding across its tracks, yielding a novel and precious outcome.

Featuring musicians from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba, the album marks a welcome return for Daymé and her superlative voice. Alkemi opens with “Que se lo Lleve el Mar,” which metamorphoses from a polyphonic Afro-Cuban libation to a jazzier sound, then back, with hints of electronica and reggaeton influences present in the laboratory in which Alkemi has been cooked up. 

Next comes “Por Ti,” infused with shades of Sade Adu (yes, that Sade)—a favorite of Daymé’s father and a significant influence on her musical upbringing—and thus gets stirred into the musical pot.

The lead single “Suave y Pegao” follows and delivers on Daymé’s intention to make a more pop record that nonetheless stays true to her folkloric and conservatoire training in Havana. Sprinkling in a feature from reggaeton big hitter Rafa Pabön on guest vocals, it’s summer somewhere on this very radio-friendly tune.

Other songs require more attention to keep up, such as “Coda,” which is set up like a straight-ahead blues before traversing a variety of textures, time signatures, and tempos.

The latest single “American Boy” is another shape-shifter, opening in 6/8 time with Cuban ceremonial drumming and hand claps squeezed through some filters and effects before going somewhere brassier and slicker and even throwing in some jazz flute for good measure.

At times, the album can feel a little restless, shifting as it does from feel to feel, and likewise, if you prefer organic instruments, there’s less happening here than on previous albums, but then that is the point.

Alkemi concludes with ‘Die and Live Again,’ a fitting end to a record that is successful in its sonic alchemy.



Alkemi, Dayme Arocena's fourth album, is now available through Brownswood Recordings.
You can listen to it and get your copy HERE