The boundless energy of Daymé Arocena and the gig in general last weekend at Camden’s The Forge juxtaposed sharply with the opening three minutes of the gig. Soft keys began proceedings, blending with warm double bass crooning and soft tinkering from the two drummers, playing a variety of Latin, hand struck percussion instruments.
Enter stage left, Daymé. She’s dressed in all white, a visible invoked induction into her Afro–Cuban religion, Santeria, and is bare foot.
After an impressive ad lib introduction to her vocal talents, where, to the audience’s surprise and delectation, she manipulates her voice much the same as a beatboxer would, Daymé explains the significance of London to her progression as an artist. “London was the place that opened the doors for me…In this country I started to do my own music, even when I don’t live here. So I think God has blessed me, to do my music in this beautiful place, this beautiful country.” It’s a sentiment that unsurprisingly resonates with the crowd, thought it doesn’t take long for focus to move back to the music.
‘Madres’ is the first song to be taken through its strides. The keys player moves from piano to keyboard, hashing out a funky progression which, along with Daymé’s vocals and cowbell, coerce the track forward. It’s one of the tracks that I compulsively listened to in the days before the gig, and live it sounds even sweeter. Its energy is infectious, contaminating the room with an atmosphere that doesn’t dissipate for the gigs entirety.
Considering her age (22!), Daymé oozes charisma far beyond her years. Funny anecdotes of previous lovers and unsanitary Canadian flats keep the mood jovial in between songs. Yet, when the drums rumble and the powerful vocals enter the fray, there’s collective refocus around the 5 musicians craft.
Around the midway point of the show, Daymé explains the importance of Havana Cultura on breaking her as an artist, and specifically the song, ‘You Knew Before’. It’s an introspective song of lost love, and provides the most moving moment of the evening. Transforming from the originals electronic makeup, this stripped back version gives the double bass space to rhythmically lead the track, and also introduces a trumpeter to the fray. His solo was fresh and expressive, and the version we heard far exceeded the emotional resonance of the original, especially when the song breaks down to a whisper, grinds to a halt, only to build back up to a spirited crescendo.
Though Daymé’s grandiose talents are enthralling, so too are the other players. On the song following ‘You Knew Before’, the pianist is given a chance to strut his stuff, playing with mind-boggling dexterity and timing. Another tune, ‘Sin Empezar’, allows for a prolonged double bass solo, which is never seen enough – something you can see from the sheer enjoyment on the bassists face as he dumbfounded the audience. And throughout, the two percussionists’ ability to play intricate rhythm in flawless tandem was astounding. This wasn’t something that was lost on Daymé either. Though she plays the front woman, at times she appeared as simply another punter, enjoying the undeniable talents of her fellow musicians. This perhaps, was the most charming aspect of her performance. Dayme radiates joy, even in her sombre moments, and as you glanced around at the crowd, it was evident how contagious this was.