Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.
There is something going on in Cuba that is, quite simply, raising the bar on music of all kinds. An incredibly talented and visionary group of Cuban millennials are reimagining their African roots through a lens that filters, jazz, soul and funk. And Daymé Arocena is literally giving voice to this movement.
Her new album, Cubafonía, is yet another offering from a singer who sounds like a magical mash up of The Queen of Latin Music, Celia Cruz, and The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Her voice and the music defy expectations, drawing on the power of Afro-Cuban traditions, the nimble athleticism of jazz, and catchy pop melodies.
"Mambo Na' Ma" is the perfect example. It reminds us that New Orleans was once considered the northern most port of Cuba (back in the 19th century when Cuban sailors visited the city). It's an explosion of Crescent City horns and Cuban clave, with Arocena's Spanglish vocals scatting across the top of it all with the power of a brass band march.
There is not a dull moment on Cubafonía. It is a major statement on the progress of Daymé Arocena as an artist for the ages. And it reminds us that the best music moves the body and the spirit.