It’s a little past five o’clock on a Wednesday and New York’s Empire Hotel is a buzz. The atmosphere is not that of a major business conference but one of the usual bustle it houses in the middle of Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Amongst the usual patrons is a woman of a rather unique stature is fiddling with her smartphone, trying to maintain her Wi-Fi connection so she can maintain communication with her manager back in Cuba. When she’s finished she offers me a sincere apology.
“Cuba needs to be part of what’s [currently] existing because it’s really in the fifties,” says 22-year-old powerhouse singer Daymé Arocena. “That’s all it needs. It doesn’t need anything else. Cuba for me is perfect. [But] it needs to see how the rest of the world works in this year with all of the good and the bad. In Cuba we have so much talent. People are creating in every single corner. But we don’t know how to produce or how to make it a part of the [music] industry.”
Arocena, like many Cubans, long for some form of social, economic and technological advancement with her beloved nation. At the moment she is in the middle of a promotional tour for her latest LP, the aptly titled “Nueva Era.” Kicked off the month of March spring tour dates with stops in Miami (a predominately Cuban stronghold), SxSW and Philadelphia. Her April schedule saw some time well spent in New York performing at BK Live and Lincoln Center. The soulful Afro-Cuban Jazz songstress chased up these stops with a European tour in such cities as Rome, Brussels and London.
With all of the madness that comes with the beast that is touring, she has not let the high-tech deficiencies which strangle her country plague her musical efforts. In a way she is pushing for a new era of sorts with her work. In spite of the aforementioned internet connectivity problems she has to deal with on a daily basis or the fact that she doesn’t own a credit card —a foreign concept to Cubans on the island since they do not exist there—she maintains herself in a positive state of well-being. One cannot help but ascertain that this can be attributed to her deep belief in the religion of Santeria.
Certainly amid the practice of a centuries-long craft exists many modern attributes in the personal and professional life of Arocena. Her voice and music is not only extremely eclectic but it has a deep longing to it. It can be best described as if someone housed Nina Simone, Adele, Billie Holiday, Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill in a week-long espriti, only to release them on the world all at once. You can hear this on tracks such as “Madres”, “Don’t Unplug My Body” and “Sin Empezar.” As for pop influences, she has not shied away from them. Arocena has made a bit of a name for herself in that world covering Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River.”
“I listen to everyone. I’m not too picky. I pay attention to everything. I like Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. But I pay attention to Beyoncé and Rihanna,” Arocena declares with a warm smile with regard to her listening habits.
Although she may be young, Arocena is the embodiment of a soul which is heterogeneous in nature. There’s plenty of work ahead of her and she is constantly on the grind. Further evidence of this will come in the form of a new EP slated for release on May 6, dubbed “One Takes.” The EP, which is comprised of six tracks, is a collaboration of sorts between Arocena and Brownswood record boss Gillies Peterson. It features stunning covers such as Peven Everett’s “Stuck” and Rafaella Renzulli’s ultra-rare “Asking Eyes.”
Arocena, whom according to her mother has been singing since she was a toddler, offered some insight to her future aspirations and what she hopes fans see at her shows:
Music is my mission. I think it’s a universal language. My music is honest in itself. What I do on stage is what I do in real life. The person that is singing on the stage is the same person that you get in touch with. All I want to give them with the experience of seeing me is the opportunity to enjoy an artist that is the real human being that you see there. Sometimes you see an artist and you don’t realize that it’s a real person. I’m sure that ninety-five percent of the people that go to my gigs they understand that they see this singer and they see the person too.
Daniel Rivera is a host and entertainment reporter from New York City. Many know Daniel as media jack of all trades who has an all-out hustle, immeasurable knowledge of pop culture and geeky charm. Follow him @DanielRiveraTV.