Daymé Arocena is terrified of glass ceilings, which is why she’s choosing to break them.
After five years, she announced the release of her new album “Al-Kemi” with her single “American Boy,” which will feature a side of Arocena and her music only a few have seen.
“There’s a Daymé before and after this album,” she tells Modern Muze. “I think the primary reason why I gave the album its name is because alchemy means, above everything, transformation. Alchemy seeks to transform things and achieve bigger results. It’s quite ostentatious. It seeks to create greatness within the resources that it has, but transformation is its axis.”
Creating a name for herself in the contemporary jazz world, and overcoming myriad obstacles, the Cuban songstress felt it was time for her music to undergo its greatest transformation thus far.
“I felt like I was touching a glass ceiling within the world I was living in. I’m terrified of the ceiling. I started to see myself at a point where — and I haven’t said this in any other interviews — I was double-billed with important jazz singers, headlining, knowing that making a name for yourself as a woman, even more, an Afro-Latina, is very difficult. It’s a very instrumental world, led by alpha males. It’s a testosterone gala at God levels.But suddenly, I said ‘I’m not going to sing standard jazz for anyone anymore.'”
Adding, “With the deep love and respect I have for all the classic female jazz singers that are making it in the world today. I don’t sing standard jazz for anyone. From here on out, my songs are my own.”
Arocena felt like the music industry didn’t have a space for her musical style, so she created her own
Her fourth studio album, which she recorded in Puerto Rico with Calle 13’s iconic producer, Eduardo Cabra, is fully enriched with new sound. Including “A Fuego Lento” with Dominican singer Vicente García, releasing on January 18.
“In an indirect way, the music industry had shown me that I wasn’t welcome in that world,” she said in a release. “There isn’t a Black woman like me who enjoys the kind of success usually reserved for Rosalía or KAROL G. The image of music genres like salsa or bachata has been painfully distorted throughout the years. You are supposed to clone and fuse yourself in order to conceal your Black or indigenous side. They told me I didn’t fit in that world, but I’m going to prove them wrong.”
Coming back to her Cuban roots, she found shelter in Puerto Rico, where she felt reconnected with her ancestral spirit.
“From the moment I stepped foot on the island, I realized that I never wanted to leave,” she said. “At the time, I had spent three years away from Cuba, living in Canada with my husband. I called and asked him to come over to Puerto Rico, and to please bring all my stuff. It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part. It was simply love at first sight.”
In Cabra, she found someone who finally understood what she was trying to convey in her music.
“I looked for a musical director who understood [Cuba’s] folkloric themes and he was perfect for it. He had lived in Cuba for a year, understood Cuban music and folklore perfectly,” she says. “Plus, everything he achieved with Calle 13, mixing the rhythms of Andean folklore, hip-hop, urban beats — he has a prodigious mind.”
Her new single with Vicente García showcases the “flexibility” in her musical style
Giving fans a taste of what’s coming next, Arocena’s latest singles are smooth and sincere. With “Suave y Pegao” she joined jazz, bosa nova and urban stylings with Rafa Pabön. “American Boy” was a pop sound we weren’t expecting but can’t stop listening to. However, “A Fuego Lento” with Dominican singer Vicente Garcia made us fall in love.
Both Garcia and Arocena take us on an unexpected trip with their new song, blending their harmonic voices perfectly. Every aspect of a growing relationship is explored, with those initial moments building up to an enriched partnership. It’s safe to say that the slow burn is felt all the way.
“It was definitely a team effort,” she claims. “Flexibility may well be my biggest virtue. I’m always open to every possible suggestion when it comes to making things better. My piano player, Jorge Luis ‘Yoyi’ Lagarza, and I worked on the demos with the rest of my band. Then, with Eduardo Cabra’s direction, we enlisted musicians from all over the Caribbean – Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic. Everybody added their energy and coloring.”
Beyoncés “The Gift” led the 31-year-old Cuban singer to an epiphany about her upcoming album
As Arocena sought inspiration for her new album, she came across something that sparked the muse: Beyonce’s album “The Gift.”
“When I saw Beyoncé singing in Yoruba, I had an epiphany. When I saw my culture in the world of pop, I asked ‘is this possible?’ I found new inspiration, a new purpose. Maybe it always was because I’ve been defending it on my end for so many years, but I was trying to pull it out of its niche and make it accessible for everyone.”
She continues, “I’m hopeful that this new project, Al-Kemi, I chose the name in Yoruba so it could be understood that I’m referring to Black magic. Not ‘Oh black magic is bad,’ but the one that provokes a spark. In many ways, this project has given me back my hope, and given me a new war, a battle.”
But above all, she hopes Afro-Latinas will finally see themselves represented in her music.
“I want to make this space a dream come true. My dream with this project is to change the industry,” she says. “Even if it sounds like the wildest thing in the world. We’ve been abandoned for a long time and I want our people to reclaim the space that belongs to us.”
“Al-Kemi” is set for release on February 23.