Daymé Arocena's Cubafonia is a triumph for the 25 year old Afro-Cuban singer. Arocena cements her status as one of the best young talents from Cuba, with a diverse set of songs that combine Cuban rhythms with jazz, neo- soul, and Latin pop.
The opening track, "Eleggua," is an exciting cut. The song is an ode to Santeria's God of the Crossroads, a fitting subject due to how it combines bombastic horn parts with Afro-Cuban rhythms. "Eleggua" begins with an upright bass intro by Rafel Aldama, before drums and horns come in, accompanied by mysterious otherworldly backing vocals. Arocena's vocal performance is hyper energic, and her Yoruba lyrics add a distinct West African feel to the song.
"Mambo Na' Mà" is a masterpiece of dynamics and interplay. Jorge Luis Lagarza starts the song off with a keyboard intro that is then passed over to horns. Then both instruments drop out to feature Arocena singing accompanied by percussion. The full band then plays a short instrumental section before the chorus kicks in. The song features excellent back and forth between Arocena's scatting and the horn section.
Cubafonia features several experiments with the pop side of Latin music. "Maybe Tomorrow" is a great English language song that could be a crossover hit for Arocena. Michael Atwood Fergusons soaring string arrangement takes the song up a notch. Largaza excels on this track with some beautiful, understated piano playing that perfectly complements Arocena's vocals.
A three-song run of polished ballads explores different types of love. It begins with the heartfelt ballad "Cómo," where Arocena mourns the end of the relationship. The song features a great saxophone solo by Emir Santacruz and a smooth backing instrumental that reminds me of a Latin version of Sade.
The second ballad in this cycle "Todo Por Amor," is Arocena's tribute to her parents. The acoustic guitar playing of Lino Lera anchors the track. The final ballad, "Angel" in this cycle is the most mysterious, as Arocena wordlessly sings over a bass/guitar/drums trio about a love that we cannot see.
Overall Cubafonía is a stunning artistic achievement by Arocena. A good portion of the set shines with a high-production polisha great sign that Arocena is an artist who will create her own path regardless of what purists may have to say. A fine example of where Latin Jazz is going.
Ellegua, La Rumba Me Llamo Yo, Lo Que Fue. Maybe Tomorrow, Negra Caridad,
Mambo Na’ Mà, Cómo, Todo Por Amor, Ángel, It's Not Gonna Be Forever, Valentine.
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