Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Killer Opening Songs: "Madres" by Daymé Arocena

When it comes to music Killer Opening Songs is usually wary of hype. Big up an artist and call them “the next big thing” and our Regular Section of Introductory Tracks with Homicidal Tendencies will probably be heading in the opposite direction. It is chiefly to do with the fact that when it comes to art, and more specifically, music, K.O.S. likes to do its discoveries by itself, at its own pace and in its own time with no pressure from anybody. Sometimes, though, the hype surrounding an artist is well justified.

Up-and-coming Cuban singer Daymé Arocena deserves all the hype she has generated.

This young chanteuse has managed to combine elements of Afro-Cuban culture, soul, jazz and funk to create one of the albums of the year, Nueva Era (literally, New Era). The Killer Opening Song, Madres, is a fine example of risk-taking endeavour.

Rooted in a music-rich childhood (Arocena claims to have been singing since she was four), Daymé’s sound is one that belies her young age, yet her experience is evidence of her creative power.  She is a choir director, composer and arranger, in addition to being an extraordinary singer. Her background as a choir director shows in this K.O.S., from the multi-layered vocals to the piano and bass arrangements. Madres is about two of the better-known female Orishas in Afro-Cuban culture: Yemayá and Oshún, the two waters, the former is the sea and the latter the river. Sung in Yoruba and Spanish the song marks the arrival of Daymé, not just in the national, but also in the international scene, if reviews of her first concert in London last spring are anything to go by. Here’s an artist with an excellent vocal control and a heightened aesthetic sense.

It is important to highlight Arocena’s command in regards to her pitch-perfect voice. It would be too easy for her to fall into what Killer Opening Songs calls the “Mariah-Carey school of singing”. All high notes for the sake of it. Instead Daymé uses her pipes to explore as wide a range of vocal styles as possible. There is the mind-blowing scat in Don’t Unplug My Body, the soulful lament in the heart-rending “filinCome to Me and the tongue-in-cheek up-tempo groove in the salsa-lite El Ruso.

As mentioned before K.O.S. does not believe in hype. Sometimes, though, it will make an exception. This is one. Go out and buy the album.

© 2015

Next Post: “Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On”, to be published on Saturday 10th October at 6pm (GMT)

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On

Let us start with the obvious truth. Most human beings are happy with the place in which they are born. Many might go to live in other provinces, states or countries but very rarely stay there for good. Why? Call it the “comfort zone” human gene. When people question the motivations of the hundreds of thousands of Cuban rafters who have left my homeland for the last five decades and counting, my answer is usually the same: “so, what would you do if/when…?”. I am still waiting for a satisfactory response. I know that if conditions had been appropriate those rafters would have stayed behind in what they know, their "comfort zone".

That is why I think that maybe Germany got it right. Perhaps the Teutons realised that utilising and maximising the skills of the refugees to whom they have given succour in recent months will eventually result in a further strengthening of their economy. Many of these arrivals are highly skilled professionals. I know that the drawbridge has been raised and the flow has been halted somehow, but still, taking in hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers calls for the sort of leadership that, sadly, is missing from the UK nowadays. Where Merkel was decisive, Cameron dithered.

Ask any Syrian escapee if they would rather stay in their country of origin without Assad or migrate to a different nation with an almost alien culture and they will choose the former. Time and time again I have seen the interviews on the BBC and other channels with recent arrivals in the UK and other European countries and the reply is usually the same: I never wanted to leave. I was forced to.

I think that we need to look at the reasons why people flee realistically. If you, as a government, are in the arms trade you will create refugees. If you once had an empire where the sun never set, those ex-colonies at some point will come back to haunt you. If you subsidise cheap exports that impoverish local economies in developing nations, you are encouraging exodus. Where does an African or Asian farmer go when they cannot sell their crops because they cannot compete with the free-flowing, inexpensive imports from Europe? First, they will go to the big cities. But if they are not lucky there, they will move further and one day they will be knocking on your door. You can call them “swarms” or “cockroaches” but they are human beings who had a life back home. If you prop up dictators abroad, the population subjected to their control must/will find a way out. Some of the people on boats or crossing Hungary on foot are escaping from theocracies. The irony is that it has been the ever-more-secular West that has supported the increasingly-religious Middle East. Iraq, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the list is never-ending.

Human beings, not "swarms"

The only way to understand the refugee crisis is to don the refugees’ clothes, to wear their shoes, to imagine what it is like having a stable life and to lose that stability the next minute. Not only that, but that standard of life (and we’re talking basic here) has been replaced by the worst nightmare you can possibly imagine. If you have children, look at them now: what is it like to bury them after a bomb has been dropped on you and your family? Do not answer immediately. Let that question sink and then ask yourself another one: what if that becomes your way of life? Would you get used to it?

It might come as a surprise for some but I am in favour of immigration controls. Not because I think that we are being swamped. I am an immigrant after all and I carry that badge with honour. The reason why I think we need controls and timelines is because I know that most migrants and refugees (two different categories, please, do not get them mixed up) want to go back home when the time is right. However, why should a human being return to bomb-hit places with the possibility of more calamities to happen? It is human to have the right to a decent life. The arms industry, unfortunately, ensures that this right remains a chimera. The habit of meddling in other countries’ domestic affairs makes losers of the more vulnerable. Supporting corrupt tyrants of whatever political hue not only interferes with democracy but also undermines local efforts to restore order.

Back to my earlier point. Perhaps Germany got it right. I read in The Economist recently that Frau Merkel has accepted the sudden influx of refugees with the proviso that as soon as conditions in their countries of origin improve they ought to return. Meanwhile, whatever monetary value we attach to the asylum seeker question should be overruled by the human value these victims of misfortune have. After all, some of their problems were caused by those barring their entry now.

© 2015

Next Post: “Killer Opening Songs”, to be published on Wednesday 7th October at 6pm (GMT)


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