Daymé Arocena doesn’t mince words when it comes to her goals: “I’m fighting for Cuba,” she says on the phone from Havana, where she was born 25 years ago and still lives today. Though the singer earned international acclaim early into her career, thanks to co-signs from saxophonist Jane Bunnett and impresario Gilles Peterson, two studio albums in she’s still musically grounded in her home country.
Arocena is determined to avoid clichés and keep innovating, even as her music is framed by Cuba’s rich musical tradition and her practice of Santería. She’s just as likely to cite Sampha and Kendrick Lamar as she is La Lupe and Mongo Santamaría, and her first band, Alami, was intentionally composed only of women. Participation in another all-woman outing, Jane Bunnett and Maqueque, earned the singer a JUNO Award in 2015.