The modern sounds of Santería from Cuban singer Daymé Arocena

Tuesday, October 22, 2019 - 7:59pm


Cuban singer Daymé Arocena has been compared to Aretha Franklin, and not just in terms of talent. Aretha's music — soul — is rooted in the Baptist church. Arocena's music is rooted in the Santería faith. Arocena speaks to The World’s host Marco Werman about Santería and how she connects with believers and nonbelievers through her music. 


Marco Werman: Daymé Arocena has been described as the finest young singer in Cuba. High praise, but it doesn't seem to go to her head. When I reached out for an interview, she was abroad in London in the middle of making lunch.

Arocena: I tried to make a pasta with vegetables and some pork.

Werman: Something that you might make in Havana, probably.

Arocena: Yeah, I like to cook good food everywhere. At least when it is cooked by myself it's always going to be amazing.

Werman: You're a very modest chef.

Daymé Arocena does not need to be modest about her music. Besides, it speaks for itself. Daymé Arocena has been compared to Aretha Franklin and not just in terms of talent. Aretha's music, soul, is rooted in the Baptist church. Daymé's Arocena's music is rooted in the Santería faith, a religion forged from Nigerian Yoruba rituals in the new world.

Arocena: People in Cuba know Santería's music because it's part of our culture. So, it's not just, say, a religious practicing, it's actually a cultural thing. So it doesn't matter if you're a practitioner or not, everybody knows what it is, everybody knows how it sounds, everybody knows what it means for us Cubans.

Werman: Do you think a Cuban audience responds differently to that thread of Santería running through your music than an American or a European would?

Arocena: No, because my mission in life is actually to bring it to you. I always say at my concerts, I don't want you to believe in what I believe. But these religions about nature, for example, all our ancestors used to sing for nature — the sun, the rain, for the water, for the earth. That's a natural thing. So, I go around the world, I play my music, I feel I'm doing right showing to the world what we have got there. Because [music] is a beautiful, natural energy, a spiritual thing, and that is the way that I connect, that I build bridges [from] my country to different countries. So, I don't expect people to know what I sing in the United States or Europe, but I expect people to connect with it. Does that make sense?

Werman: It makes a lot of sense. And I don't know anybody who can't connect with your music. You're adept in pop and jazz and classical and Santería seems to be the connective tissue. It's always there. I feel it. But I don't know how to describe it to somebody who wouldn't recognize it. So, for people who might not know what it is, what is the sound of Santería? How would you describe it?

Arocena: Santería’s music is still developing itself. Not [every] song is religious, but most of the Cuban music is inspired by religious music because it's so rich, it's so tasty, it has a lot of rhythms, it has a lot of melodies, it has a lot of ways to play. So, even the style of Latin music is like a response style — like, the lead vocalist says something and the choir responds and that's... a folkloric music style. So sometimes you don't need a bata drum, you just need the feeling, the vibe....

Werman: It's interesting what you were just saying, because I was considering all of that while I was listening to your new album, Sonocardiogram. And I just want to know, do you think your music is sacred?

Arocena: What is life without faith? You could not practice any religion, but it doesn't mean you don't have faith. Music is faith. Music is hope. But it's not just about religion, it's about faith in myself, faith in my country, faith in my generation, faith in the music that we are still trying to push from Cuba. Faith is something amazing and I don't think it is just connected to a religion, because faith is something that is just in your spirit.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.