Written by Marisa Arbona-Ruiz from NPR
Daymé Arocena must be an old soul. She’s a bright, young singer with a surprisingly mature voice that’s deep and dynamic. Her spirit is exuberant and her style is rich, steeped in Cuba’s African rhythms and Santería culture and influenced by Whitney Houston, North American pop and jazz.
Arocena exploded onto the music scene with her debut album, Nueva Era, in 2015. Now, she lifts off with the danceable “Mambo Na’ Mà,” the lead track from her just-released follow-up, Cubafonía.
The track opens with simple electronic beats based on an Afro-Cuban clave rhythm. It then launches into what sounds like a cultural explosion born of an Afro-Cuban soul’s journey into New Orleans — which is exactly how this track came to be. Arocena was captivated by a New Orleans brass band’s “second line,” with its dancers and singers, and heard similarities to the ’50s mambo sounds of Pérez Prado — Afro-Latino rhythms with congas, bass, timbales, cowbells, trumpets and vocals. (Indeed, New Orleans has a unique Cuban connection dating back at least to the 19th century, when Cuban immigrants embedded the sounds of the island in the local culture.)
There are no verses in “Mambo Na’ Mà.” Instead, the song bewitches with jazz horns layered against infectious mambo rhythms and Arocena’s fusion of vocal styles; her gospel and soul acrobatics and vivacious jazz scatting are punctuated by African call-and-response chants of the titular phrase. She throws in a string of staccato “Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah, oh yeah”s, making her voice another instrument in a hybrid Cuban-Crescent City second line. The layers just keep building, like stirring in the ingredients to a savory jambalaya. The result is a feast for the ears.
Arocena’s enormous talent is on full display in this track; more important than the sweetness of her voice is her powerful control over all the techniques that make a great vocalist. With her fresh take on cross-cultural fusion, this Cuban treasure is fast-tracking it onto the global stage in a show of soulful vigor and awe.
Cubafonía is out now on Brownswood Recordings.