Now Things: Daymé Arocena is Bringing Afro-Cuban Jazz Back to the Global Stage

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Watching Cuban singer Daymé Arocena perform—as she does below, inside a London church dating back to Roman times—it’s easy to see and hear why she’s already earned international acclaim at the ripe old age of 22. Her uncompromising voice and presence are what first caught the attention of BBC DJ/tastemaker Gilles Peterson, who has partnered with Havana Cultura since 2009 on various projects to foster and export Cuban music, most recently for Arocena’s debut album, Nueva Era.

Arocena’s stripped down and utterly soulful music re-imagines the connection between the long-tied Afro-Cuban and American jazz traditions—which might explain why it sounds so familiar and yet, still, completely fresh. Her version of the jazz standard “Cry Me A River,” for example, cuts right to song’s essence, and then builds it back up with traditional Cuban percussion and chants. “If you come to Cuba, you are gonna see a musical world that is little and huge, pure and mixed at same time,” she told Okayplayer in a recent interview.

As a singer, she’s completely fearless, stretching her range from gentle crooning to the a capella guitar solo (with wah-wah pedal) she does in this live video of “Sin Empezar.” Watch her perform in Saint Pancras Old Church below, and purchase Nueva Era here.

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