Cuban songstress Daymé Arocena is shedding her classical jazz skin and unveiling a sound, unlike anything she’s done before with her upcoming album, “Al-Kemi.”

This isn’t just a new collection of tracks; it’s a revolution, a declaration of artistic independence, and a testament to the transformative power of embracing your roots.

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Arocena, a force to be reckoned with in the contemporary jazz world, has never been one to conform. Her music, a vibrant tapestry woven from Cuban rhythms, jazz improvisation, and soulful vocals, has defied categorization.

But the music industry, often rigid and myopic, struggled to understand her.

“There isn’t a Black woman like me who enjoys the kind of success usually reserved for Rosalía or KAROL G,” she says. “They told me I didn’t fit in that world, but I’m going to prove them wrong.”

Finding refuge in her Cuban roots and reimagining her sound

Arocena’s journey to “Al-Kemi” began with a personal transformation. Disillusioned by the music industry’s narrow vision for artists, she found inspiration in Puerto Rico. The island’s vibrant culture and ancestral energy resonated deeply within her, reminding her of her native Cuba. This newfound connection to her heritage became the crucible for her artistic rebirth.

The alchemy truly began when Arocena met Eduardo Cabra, the visionary producer behind Calle 13’s explosive success. With his boundless creativity and deep understanding of Afro-Caribbean rhythms, Cabra was the missing ingredient in Arocena’s sonic recipe.

Together, they embarked on a musical adventure, pushing boundaries and defying expectations.

Image used with permission from Daymé Arocena.

“I looked for a musical director who understood [Cuba’s] folkloric themes, and he was perfect for it. He had lived in Cuba for a year and understood Cuban music and folklore perfectly,” she told FIERCE. “Plus, everything he achieved with Calle 13, mixing the rhythms of Andean folklore, hip-hop, urban beats — he has a prodigious mind.”

Arocena wanted, above all, for people to recognize the “Black magic” behind alchemy. Not in its negative connotations, but its African roots spread throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

“There’s a Daymé before and after this album,” she says. “I think the primary reason why I gave the album its name is because alchemy means, above everything, transformation. Alchemy seeks to transform things and achieve bigger results. It’s quite ostentatious. It seeks to create greatness within the resources that it has, but transformation is its axis.”

Image used with permission from Daymé Arocena.

Her new single “A fuego lento” with Vicente García is a testament to her album’s musical diversity

“Al-Kemi,” aptly named after the ancient practice of transformation, is a testament to this audacious collaboration. Each track is a genre-bending gem, showcasing the multifaceted beauty of Arocena’s artistry.

She presents the smooth, sensual jazz of “Suave y Pegao,” the electrifying pop pulse of “American Boy,” and the soulful duet with Dominican singer García on “A Fuego Lento,” a slow burn that readily depicts falling deeply and slowly into love and lust.

“It was definitely a team effort,” she claims. “Flexibility may well be my biggest virtue. I’m always open to every possible suggestion when it comes to making things better. My piano player, Jorge Luis’ Yoyi’ Lagarza, and I worked on the demos with the rest of my band. Then, with Eduardo Cabra’s direction, we enlisted musicians from all over the Caribbean—Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. Everybody added their energy and coloring.”

“Al-Kemi” is more than just an album; it’s a movement. It’s a rallying cry for artistic freedom, a celebration of cultural heritage, and a powerful reminder that true transformation comes from embracing your authentic self.

Arocena’s voice, soaring above the musical tapestry, becomes a beacon of inspiration, urging listeners to break free from the shackles of expectation and imagine a new landscape for Latino artists. The album will stream on February 23.