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Alkemi / Daymé Arocena

Alchemy has traditionally been understood as a process by which base metals are transformed into gold. However, behind that process lies a symbolism whose meaning is much deeper; one that refers to the human psyche, the union of the material and the spiritual, and the capacity for inner transformation that each of us possesses.

Cuban singer-songwriter Daymé Arocena was inspired by this polysemy to title her fifth studio album: Alkemi -translation in Yoruba language of alchemy-, released last February on digital platforms.

Under the auspices of the record label Brownswood Recording and the musical production of former member of the group Calle 13, Eduardo Cabra, Alkemi is the first phonogram released by Daymé after her emigration from Cuba. It is an album that captures all the personal changes, musical evolutions and artistic transformations experienced by the singer at the age of 32.

In her social networks, the artist summarizes the essence of the album as "transforming to shine", something that is clearly transmitted on the cover. This project shows once again Arocena's incredible versatility and talent, consolidating her as one of the most outstanding voices of contemporary Cuban music. This is what recognized media such as the magazine Rolling Stonewhich included her among the 19 most exciting Latin artists in 2024.

From the first moment you hear AlkemiThe listener is taken on a journey that masterfully fuses jazz, R&B, soul, funk and Afro-Cuban rhythms, creating a sound experience that shows the Havana native's commitment to exploring new genres. She has stated that for this, among other sources, her life experiences, Cuba, the Caribbean, and the visual album "The Caribbean" served as muses. Black is Kingby Beyoncé.

Photo taken from the artist's Facebook profile.

Comprised of 10 tracks, with a total running time of around 32 minutes, each song is a gem in itself, with deep and emotional lyrics that explore themes such as love, spirituality, Afro-Caribbean identity and female empowerment.

The album opens with May the sea take it awaya kind of prologue that sets the spiritual tone of the album. Arocena's voice soars over a hypnotic percussion base, creating a ritual atmosphere that transports listeners to a mystical realm: her album. It is a sort of welcome to Daymé's new musical era, more mature and self-confident.

"And I survived/ All indolence, so much cruelty/ I lived/ Freeing my love from bondage, shattering this madness/ Inoculating me the cure," so goes one of the song's stanzas For youone of the singles promotional material. With a distinctive funk sound, it is an ode to the acceptance of the inner self and femininity, often subject to the stigmas imposed by society that, at certain times in her life, limited Arocena for being a black, Latina woman, outside the traditional canons of beauty. To better convey her message of empowerment, the song is accompanied by a music video that shows a dancing, irreverent, rebellious Daymé, in the midst of white and dark tones in transition to her point of greatest brilliance.

Soft and StickyThe album's lead single highlights Arocena's ability to improvise and explore different vocal styles. The song breaks away from his musical comfort zone to venture into a more commercial and uncommon genre in his repertoire: urban, although with a notable presence of Brazilian bossa nova. For this, he collaborates with Puerto Rican reggaeton artist Rafa Pabön and the result is a sensual track with an enveloping sonority, where both artists intertwine their voices as if it were a couple's dialogue.

It is precisely from this musical connection with the Caribbean, perhaps motivated by Cabra's impeccable artistic imagination as a producer, that the second collaboration was born, On a low flamewith Dominican singer-songwriter Vicente García. From the first chord to the last, and honoring the title, both singers raise the temperature of the song through the contrast of their voices, as well as a masterful fusion "...".in crescendo"between neo soul and reggae, capturing the listener's attention with every note.

Photo taken from the artist's Facebook profile.

The international track list by Alkemi also features ballads dedicated to romance, breakups, life... In Love, hopeDaymé sings things like these: "I feel when you embrace me / Freeze the moment / An infinite and fleeting instant / Only you and I levitate". Instead, coda is a sort of antithesis to second chances in love; it's about the closure of a toxic relationship. Here, her vocal range allows her to effortlessly navigate from sweet whispers to powerful screams, bringing each verse to life. The first track is an R&B Afrobeat version and the second a pop song, both tinged in the background by drums that pay tribute to her Afro-Cuban roots.

Following this expressive line appears How to live for hima heartfelt ballad that fuses the distinctive harmonies of bolero -adapted with a vibrant reggae in the chorus-, which creates a masterpiece sound. The orchestration of the arrangements and Arocena's voice, which is an impressive instrument in itself, stand out.

Undoubtedly, a top place in the album goes to American Boy. In just three minutes the singer narrates her love story with a white gringo boy. It took ten years for her romance to come to light in the form of a song. It is a song that awakens in the listener reminiscences of Daymé's jazz side, while highlighting the musical experimentation of the album with the fusion of batá drums with soul. With respect to its sonority, the daily the New York Times defines it as a mix that "oscillates between a yoruba ñongo rhythm and a funk groove in the style of the '80s". The truth is that the decade of waiting resulted in a true musical gem.

Photo taken from the artist's Facebook profile.

In this project it is evident that Arocena is committed to take her musical stamp further, to listen to possible new followers, without losing the essence that catapulted her to where she is now. The singer skillfully incorporates songs in Spanish and English such as I rather let it gosomething already present in his previous repertoire. This song fuses elements of rumba and Latin jazz that introduce a unique symphony, whose synchronicity in the arrangements transmutes into a true listening experience. Special mention goes to the piano and percussion, as well as the artist's angelic backing vocals, which together take the listener on a journey through an eclectic Havana sun.

To this facet spanglish is added another one: Die and Live Againa song that could be defined as a contrast. At first, an R&B with strong synthesizer elements and a melodic voice enraptures, and then breaks the inertia with a catchy chorus and the remarkable effects of a merengue drum. At times, it gives the sensation of listening to two songs in one. It is the closing of a phonogram where Daymé Arocena not only marked a before and after in her career, but also captured the attention of the public in her new era.

Each song is an invitation to dive into her sound universe and let yourself be carried away by the passion and energy she transmits. Undoubtedly, Daymé took a risk, explored and innovated in Alkemiand it did so with flying colors.

Brian Anthony Diaz More posts

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