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First Look: Daymé Arocena Redefines Afro-Cuban Soul On "Don't Unplug My Body" [Video Premiere + Exclusive Interview]
First Look: Daymé Arocena Redefines Afro-Cuban Soul On "Don't Unplug My Body" [Video Premiere + Exclusive Interview]

First Look: Daymé Arocena Redefines Afro-Cuban Soul On "Don't Unplug My Body" [Video Premiere + Exclusive Interview]

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

Photos by Casey Moore, courtesy of Brownswood Recordings

At 22 years old, Daymé Arocena is already something of a seasoned musical veteran in her native Cuba, having been singing professionally since the age of 8 and fronting the big band Los Primos since 14. Although her name is still relatively unknown internationally (her resumé includes performances with Wynton Marsalis and Canadian saxophonist Jane Bunnett) we expect that to change with the breathtaking rapidity of America's new open-ness to its island neighbor. This coming monday, June 8th, Gilles Peterson's renowned Brownswood label will release Arocena's newest project, the prophetically named Nueva Era. The LP was a logical progression from Gilles' Havana Cultura compilation and is already making serious fans with its particular blend of progressive soul, jazz, a capella vocal arrangements, all set against the backdrop of Daymé 's Yoruba spirituality (Arocena has been raised in the Afro-Cuban Santeria tradition since childhood). Although difficult to categorize within conventional genre lines, the resulting sound is instantly transporting and filled with a charismatic presence that is amply demonstrated in clips of Arocena's live performances and acoustic sessions.

In order to properly introduce the Okayplayer community to the power of Ms. Arocena's voice and vision (she is also the arranger and producer of most of her material) we arranged with Brownswood to combine this First Look profile with the premiere of this live performance of her song "Don't Unplug My Body," a 10-minute out of body experience recorded live with full band at Saint Pancras Old Church. Watch below and scroll down to familiarize yourself with this inspiring artist via her exclusive First Look interview.

Okayplayer: Who is Daymé Arocena--please introduce yourself to the nice people. Where did you grow up? First pet? Favorite color?

Daymé Arocena: Hi Guys! My name is Daymé Arocena and I am a Cuban singer from Havana. I love dogs but I never had one 'cause I am allergic. But if one day I can, I want one with long hair. My favorite color is blue

like the sky or the sea, the beginning or the end.

OKP: How did you start singing (can we guess church?) and what was the first thing you ever recorded?

Daymé: My mom says that I started to sing early before I began talking. I just can’t remember my life without singing. But when I was a child I sang in a community choir called D´Senitos and I did my first recordings with them even before I went to the musical conservatory at 10 years old in Havana.

OKP: Your live videos certainly feel like a spiritual, church-like experience, with you ministering the music. Is that something you feel when you perform live?

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

Daymé: I am a spiritual girl... I believe in me, in my spirituality and of course in God. I just try to enjoy the life that I have, bringing my art everywhere, giving a good moment to the people; that is spirituality too. My music is my church, where I can love and be loved in return.

OKP: Stylistically your music seems to run the gamut from Afro-Cuban to new jazz to experimental choral arrangements. Are the jazz and soul elements something inherent to your musical experience growing up in

Cuba? or were they imports that you discovered later?

Daymé: Jazz, soul, Afro-Cuban, choral Music---everything is my blood and then in my music. My father loved American jazz and soul music before I was born. He has a beautiful jazz CD collection that he shows me. My grandma is really a Cuban girl and she teaches an important part of the Cuban music that I know. When I was a kid I was singing boleros and jazz standards in my "own English.¨ I just tried to get my way but I know that my parents were a huge influence in me.

OKP: Give us a window on the soundscape of Cuba 2015. So many people here are familiar with groups like the Buena Vista Social Club, but what defines the current sound of Havana to you--and who are we most likely

overlooking? Do younger jazz fusionists (Robert Glasper, Christian Scott, José James, Jon Batiste) find an audience there?

Daymé: The Cuban musicians are always trying to learn from everywhere and showing us around the world. Even when the information is limited we know about young important players like Robert Glasper. So, if you come to Cuba you are gonna see a musical world that is little and huge, pure and mixed at same time. Every day you can discover a new rhythm or a really good young player doing something really fresh and deep. Cuba is a paradise to discover…even more than all the old traditions that the people know.

OKP: What was the experience of working with Gilles like--and how has it changed you as a musician?

Daymé: What can I say….? He just changed my life when he gave me the opportunity of going around the world to share my music. He is huge, a huge SOUL, and a huge person.

OKP: Please tell us more about "Don't Unplug My Body." Who are you singing to? Is the song a personal one, or meant to be more universal (perhaps even political?)

Daymé: Honestly I got a melody scatting one day and then I put the harmony on it. But on the chorus I was feeling those lyrics and I just left it. And then I showed it to Simbad (my musical producer) and he understood

what I was trying to say with that chorus and he wrote the lyrics. It was the 1st song that we did together and the beginning of our musical life together. That song is too simple, lovely and sensual: "Stay with me I don't want to leave ...don´t unplug my body" - just keep connected to me. Sexy!!

OKP: How do you feel about the new moves toward open-ness between Cuba & the US? How do you think it will change Cuba and do you believe it will effect both countries musically?

Daymé: I have been to the US 4 times and I’ve been in a lot of cities and I always see Cuba as a town…I think when the doors open to Cubans and Americans we are gonna see a big water-mirror: culture, soul, music...I can see a beautiful when you see a brother 50 years later.

OKP: Please tell us about the ensemble of musicians who made this record--are they the same group you perform with live? How much are you arranging or directing versus composing/improvising as a group?

Daymé: I connected with this band in London and I love them! They did and still are making my musical dreams come true. I don’t think that I am conducting them cause we are all learning on the way. I see them as family and I really enjoy composing, singing and improvising with them cause they make my music an art.

OKP: Whats on the near horizon for Daymé Arocena (after the album

release)? s there a tour in the works--and will you make it to the US?

Daymé: I hope so! I will love to see my CD in the U.S. I leave half of my heart each time that I go there. If that is my next horizon, it’s a really good one.