Daymé Arocena: Alkemi review – propulsive Cuban folk-pop

<span>‘Poised for crossover success’: Daymé Arocena.</span><span>Photograph: Alexvisualss</span>
‘Poised for crossover success’: Daymé Arocena.Photograph: Alexvisualss

Since the release of her 2015 debut album Nueva Era, Cuban singer Daymé Arocena has established herself as one of her country’s most expressive voices. Encompassing everything from nimble jazz scatting to luscious orchestrations and breathy phrases that soar over bata drums and Santería folk rhythms, Arocena’s four albums have explored the joyous range of Afro Cuban music. Her latest record is a departure. Where Arocena has previously made music rooted in acoustic improvisation, Alkemi veers into Latin pop with 10 tracks of earworming hooks, synth melody and snapping electronic percussion.

Opener Que Se Lo Lleve el Mar sets the tone, establishing stacked harmonies of Arocena’s husky voice over minimal synth stabs before erupting into an infectious double-time shuffle. The propulsive feel continues, from Por Ti’s bossa nova horn fanfares to the languorous neo-soul of Suave y Pegao and sultry doo-wop stylings of Como Vivir Por El. These aren’t pristine arena-fillers, but intricate and emotive tracks full of subtle touches. The album could benefit from a moment where the full force of Arocena’s voice is unleashed, but this is the sound of a singer poised for crossover success.