Vocalist Daymé Arocena first grabbed our attention in 2014 in Jane Bunnett’s Maqueque, the Canadian saxophonist’s ongoing project showcasing Cuban women musicians long overlooked both at home and abroad. Around the same time Arocena connected with influential French-born, London-based producer Gilles Peterson, who presented her in an array of settings, often remixed with electronica beats. For lovers of Cuban roots music, these efforts could come across as gilding a lily. Her voice, redolent of rumba chants and Santería invocations, is a thing of glory. On her previous album, 2017’s Cubafonía, Peterson’s lavish production sometimes seemed to tamp down her vitality.
Her new album, Sonocardiogram, is an intricately produced work, too, but Arocena is at the helm, reveling in her multifarious musical world. Recorded in Havana, the album opens with the benediction “Nangareo” and incantations for three female orishas, Oya, Oshun and Yemeya, accompanied by rhythms derived from double-sided batá drums translated to the trap set. A rhumba interlude gives way to her suite that’s the heart of the album, “Cinco Maneras de Amor.” It’s a kaleidoscopic journey, from the late-night soul of “Porque tu no Estas” to the English language plea “Not for Me.” She closes with two wonderfully idiosyncratic tributes, tipping her hat to legendary salsa soul singer La Lupa and offering a well-constructed pastiche in tribute to her antecedents with “Homanaje.”