Daymé Arocena – Cubafonia [Brownswood Recordings, 10th March 2017]

Caribbean societies are often subject to a certain gaze, in search of exotica. The cultural region’s best musicians are those who break with fulfilling the expectations of such a gaze, and produce music rooted in artistry. Daymé Arocena is such a musician, and with Cubafonia, invites us into the realm of Cuban musical auteur-ship of entrancing post-modernity and classicism (the danceable kind.)

Cubafonia opens with ‘Eleggua;’ postmodern Jazz in the Irakere sense, or in the best sense. Arocena plays with her singing, entrancing us down a rabbit hole of Afro-Cuban spirituality (Eleggua is the orisha of crossroads, and is often prayed to at the beginning of a ceremony to be given access to other deities.) Its percussion is good, but playfulness is engaging: as if singing to a god.

Post-modernity is jazzy on Cubafonia – ‘Mambo Na Ma’ is a great example. Why is it the case? I’d rather not comment. “Como” is another great example, wherein the use of English language does what Jazz does: bring particularity to soundscape.

It must be said that the weaker songs on Cubafonia are the English language ones (‘Maybe Tomorrow,’ for example); Arocena is not as capable with the descendant of old Germanic that is English, as she is with Spanish. Despite this, the English language songs are pretty well post-modern explorations and exclamations, and far from being the cliché songs that the modernism obsessed Jazz crowd mostly releases.

‘La Rumba Me Llame Yo’ is classicism as dance music, and so is ‘Negra Caridad’. Both are sung in the tradition of the grand ladies of Latin dance song, such as Celia Cruz. This time, it’s obvious that affecting identity, is much more important than entertaining the Tropicana (infamous dancehall) and so her classicism is neo-classical, a break from the Tropicana, by working the very same beloved rhythms.

Dressed in religious all white, wearing a post-modern haircut, Daymé sings us a direction for our feeling on Cubafonia, wherein Cuba, like Vienna, Paris, London, Berlin, serves as a guide. Her music begs us to live slowly, passionately, poetically, and engage in organized dance: It’s the sound of cultural ambition harvested alongside orishas, in a mythical society, Cuba’s, that leaves you wanting, while realising it has earned the dignity it covets. This is the way forward.