Daymé Arocena launched her forthcoming debut album on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood imprint in the intimate setting of St Pancras Old Church in front an audience charged with anticipation.
Last night I ventured into hinterlands of Kings Cross in search of St Pancras Old Church and in the company three illustrious broadcasters and scribes – Jane Cornwell, Rita Ray and Max Reinhardt – took in a warm, potential packed set from 23 year old Cuban singer /songwriter Daymé Arocena.
The vibe in the Old Church was perfect as Daymé delivered her opening composition which was dedicated to her orishas – Yemaya and Ochun. Following a short programmed thumb piano intro her producer, Simbad, settled onto his rumba box and joined fellow musicians Oli Savil on percusssion, Neil Charles on electric bass and Robert Mitchell on keys. The song was called ‘Madres’ and as Neil Charles laid down one solid B-Line Mitchell’s keys reminded me of post ‘In A Silent Way’ Zawinul. Meanwhile, a barefoot Daymé with bells on her ankles and clad in from head to toe in white filled the church with her warm agile vocals.
It was the perfect intro and paved the way for Daymé to wish us all “good evening!” and explain the origins of the next song which was about her love for some “crazy guy”. Oli on clay pot ushered us in and the song gathered a momentum that revealed echoes of vintage Dianne Reeves. The hybrid, shifting rhythm was consistently punctuated by percussion and opened up an impressive rapport between Daymé and stellar pianist Mitchell.
It’s Daymé’s songwriting that gives her an interesting edge and quirky song that following was based on “a 3 day visit that felt like 3 weeks” to a dust filled house in Toronto that had the asthmatic singer trying to simultaneously breathe and smile. Daymé beat out the rhythm on her chest, Neil delivered a Jaco style bass solo and the song was called ‘Dust’!
‘Come To Me’ was a song that had led me to expect a more nu-soul vibe to her set while ‘Drama’ was scat, bass and piano driven piece with some kickin’ bongos. By this time the energy was flowing and Daymé’s smile was huge!
‘Be There’ – a lullaby – followed and it was dedicated to her younger brother who, when he was two, thought Daymé was his mother. Mitchell switched to an organ-like sound while Daymé sang nursing the mic as she would a child. And then we encountered another “crazy guy” and “the most sad song in my life”. It kicked off at finger snappin’ tempo and included an improvised solo from Daymé where she imagined what the song would sound like with a rockin’, funky-wah-wah-ed guitar and finished it all off screamin’ “I hate you!”.‘Don’t Unplug My Body’ had the crowd clappin’ and vibin’ in call and response fashion and it closed the set in fine style. A spirited guaguanco rooted encore with a fine solo from Oli Savil left everybody on a high and illustrated that the Brownswood-Havana Cultura connection (http://havana-cultura.com/) is bearing fruit at a time when Cuba might just see the decades of US embargoes and isolation relegated to the dustbin of history. Daymé has definitely arrived at the right time. She has a huge presence and as a singer is raw, spiritual, soulful and musically ambitious. Her journey is just beginning. Watch this space.
ALSO: The pre-live set selectah on the night was Throwing Shade. If you want to check the electronic alt-pop productions of this DJ, NTS broadcaster, ethnomusicologist and barrister (not barista) then go to https://soundcloud.com/throwingshade/sets/19-jewels-ep
Following Daymé Arocena’s EP – The Havana Cultura Sessions’ comes the LP – ‘Nueva Era’. It’s out via Brownswood on June 9th.