Daymé Arocena: Music Roots & Creative Process. Part 2.

Image: Daymé Arocena. Photo credit: Pablo Dewin

We continue our conversation with Cuban artist Daymé Arocena in celebration of International Jazz Day. In Part 1, Daymé discussed Cuban music movements and teaching at Berklee. Here Daymé chats with us about her musical upbringing, creative process, and her song Homenaje from our Cuban Jazz playlist.

[Editor]: Talk to us about your relationship with jazz, as we’d love to know how you got into jazz. Was your musical upbringing learning traditional rhythms such as batá, or was it more of a classical training?

I can say that I didn’t get into jazz, jazz got into me. I never thought I was going to be a jazz singer, I thought jazz was weird music for weird people. When I was a teenager I wanted to sing music like Whitney Houston and Christina Aguilera.

When I was in the conservatory, they had a big band that needed a singer, and I said ok. They gave me My Funny Valentine, Bye Bye Blackbird, a few standards to learn. I was just so into the great energy of the big band, and thriving with it, that at a certain point I was joining them in the jazz festivals of Cuba and Havana.

I started getting invited to join other bands, where I was asked to improvise by imitating the musicians. That is how I started to scat. Eventually I couldn’t listen to pop music anymore. All I wanted to do was sing and hear jazz.

At the same time it was amazing to have this classical training. I was at the conservatory, studying choir conducting, and it was all about Montiverdi and Beethoven. When I was born there were fourteen people living in my house. We had a tiny two-bedroom apartment to share with all of those people. I was born in 1992, when there was a special period of Cuba. There was no electricity, no radio, no tv, but the entire house played rumba!

I grew up that way, listening to rumba in the house, singing jazz in the big band, and studying classical music.

Image: Daymé Arocena. Photo credit: Pablo Dewin

Daymé talks to us about her creative process.

I have been writing music my whole life, I always follow the way the music comes to me. I never push things. I don’t sit in front of the piano and say, “I’m going to write a song”, because I get inspiration in any kind of situation and I just follow that. The way it came is the way it is. I feel I am just a bridge. I get the message and I deliver the message. I am kind of like a “musical Uber”.

For almost 7 years I’ve been getting songs through my dreams. It started happening after I received my religious ceremony, kind of a manifestation or appearance that I get in my dreams. Sometimes I see another artist singing a song in my dreams, and I realize that it’s a new song, and my new song.

For our playlist we’ve chosen Homenaje. Can you tell us what inspired this song?

‘Homenaje’ means ‘homage’. I wanted to have a connection with my previous album, Cubafonía, the pretty Cuban sound. Sonocardiogram is pretty jazzy, let’s say experimental, so I had a few different ideas, each inspired by a Cuban artist I admire.

The beginning was inspired by a song of Emiliano Salvador. Another part was from Arsenio Rodriguez. People believe Rodriguez was the creator of salsa music because he improved the son, which is what Buena Vista Social Club plays. That kind of group used to be seven artists, septedo, clean, and simple. He added piano, a horn section, and he was the first guy that brought the idea of a bigger group in the 50s. It’s what we have today as salsa!

In the very middle there is Cuban pianism, inspired by Lilí Martínez – one of the top guys in the history of Latin pianism in Cuba. At the very end, I was inspired by a woman called Merceditas Valdés, who was the first person to incorporate the chants and sounds of Afro-Cuban religion, which were only known in secret ceremonies. She combined them with jazz and made it popular. It’s my tribute to the big artists and pioneers in Cuban music history.

Follow Daymé Arocena on Instagram, and listen to her music on TIDAL and Qobuz.

A New Way to Discover Jazz

In the century since its birth, jazz has exploded from its African American roots to music scenes around the world, absorbing and incorporating cultural traditions as it goes. With its incredible variety of subgenres and branches, it covers a huge breadth of instruments, performers, and styles. That complexity gives Roon a tremendous amount of data, connections, and content to work with.

Finding your way with Roon

Jazz stands apart from other contemporary genres largely due to its emphasis on improvisation, which often blurs the line between “composer” and “performer.” While much of jazz relies on a songbook of standards for its foundation, no two performances of a tune are alike, making the canon of recorded jazz rich territory for exploration. Take a standard like Gershwin’s Summertime as an example… In Roon, you’ll find thousands of recordings by various performers from different periods and across genres, and then you can search within them. (Try using Filter to find versions by Mahalia Jackson, John Coltrane, or even Janis Joplin).

Roon makes it easy to find new recordings, to put your discoveries into context, and to make clear links between performers. Our goal is to create a fluid, sprawling journey through jazz that mirrors the music itself.


Jazz is the only music in which the same note can be played night after night, but differently each time.

Ornette Coleman

Seeing the whole picture

Another defining characteristic of jazz is that ensemble lineups (even among well-known groups) are fluid, and collaborations among musicians are the rule rather than the exception. Because Roon knows the personnel on most jazz recordings, you’ll be presented with music in a way that lets you easily uncover gems in your collection and beyond it.

For example, you might know Herbie Hancock from classic albums like Maiden Voyage or Head Hunters, his groundbreaking innovations like Rockit, or popular recent releases like his album covering Joni Mitchell, but Roon understands the full breadth of his work over the last 60 years, across more than 500 albums.

Explore his early performances on classic Miles Davis releases, his collaborations with luminaries like Freddie Hubbard and Wayne Shorter, or his hundreds of appearances across legendary labels like Blue Note, Verve, and Columbia Jazz. When you explore a jazz legend in Roon, you’re not limited to their own albums or someone’s idea of a “greatest hits” playlist – you can find every performance, every appearance, and every composition using Focus.

From Kamasi to Coleman

Connections between jazz musicians form a web-like pattern, which makes for some exciting discoveries. Our recommendation technology, Valence, guides you with recommendations and suggestions whether you’re new to the genre or a seasoned connoisseur. Browsing a performer, for example, you may be guided to recordings made during their career heyday, see their music performed by other musicians, or explore their influences and followers. All these cues are designed to send you even deeper into the genre.

Let’s use Kamasi Washington’s acclaimed Heaven and Earth (2018) as an example. In Roon, when you view the track list, you’ll see that the majority are original compositions, but the third track, Hub Tones, is by trumpet legend Freddie Hubbard. We can see that there are 17 other recordings of the composition, which takes us off into other artists, albums, performances, and even different places in time. Or you could scroll through Kamasi Washington’s page to see his influences, which include greats like Pharoah Sanders, Wayne Shorter and Ornette Coleman. In a few simple steps we’re discovering jazz musicians and performances as if we had an expert by our side.

Ready to hear more?

We’ve curated some playlists if you’d like to kickstart your own journey through jazz. They’re made by our experts and informed by the listening habits of thousands of enthusiasts. See if you agree with our choices and let us know what stands out for you!

Qobuz: Roon Rhythm, London Jazz Explosion

TIDAL: Cuban Jazz, Icelandic Jazz, Fireside Jazz (festive/winter)

Daymé Arocena: Cuban Music Breakout. Part 1.

Image: Daymé Arocena. Photo credit: Pablo Dewin

In celebration of International Jazz Day, we had the privilege of speaking to the Havana born and raised 28-year-old singer, choir conductor, and composer Daymé Arocena about her music journey. In our Cuban Jazz playlist on TIDAL, we feature Daymé’s Homenaje from her latest album, Sonocardiogram. Daymé chats with us from her home in Toronto, and takes us on a trip through Cuba’s rich music history.

[Editor]: What do you want our readers to know about contemporary Cuban music?

First, to understand music in Cuba, you have to understand Cuba. Before 1959, Cuban musicians were getting influence from everywhere. The music was developing and reinventing, and that’s why we have big ages of movement. The beginning of Cuban music, danzón and contradanza, was inspired by French music from Paris. It was really complicated to dance to. I don’t even know how to dance to it! Then we have bolero. Then cha-cha-cha, created by Enrique Jorrin.

Then we get the big movement filin, which is all of those beautiful songs which people call boleros. People like Louis Miguel brought a lot of those songs back in the 90s.

Then we get mambo, the first big meeting between the United States and Cuba. The big band arrived in Cuba, in a Cuban way, with congas and bongos. It was like swing and New Orleans style, but at the same time it had montuno. It was a huge movement.

There is also the vibe of the music of the Caribbean with more traditional songs from Santiago de Cuba to Havana, coming with the immigration of people to and from Cuba. In the 1990s, the movement of Timba was huge. Timba is not salsa. It’s really complicated to dance to. People didn’t want to travel because Cuba was the place to play Timba.

In 1959, there was the Cuban revolution with no more people coming in and going out. That’s why people around the world are stuck in the idea that Cuban music is that of before 1959. In the 90s, when Buena Vista Social Club was really big, nobody was listening to or playing that music in Cuba, so people felt disrespected. People were bringing this to the world as the Cuban music to listen to, whilst another 40 years of music was being ignored!

It was disappointing for that generation to confuse people around the world with music that is more than 100 years old. We have to respect that tradition, but it was unfair for the development of Cuban music.

After 1959, we had songo, a lot of rhythms and genres. We didn’t stop! What stopped was the industry. We didn’t have industry to publish our music overseas. Everything we were creating was stuck. People don’t know that there are people playing music like me in Cuba. They expect mambo or cha-cha-cha, but that is 70-years-old music.

Image: Daymé Arocena. Photo credit: Pablo Dewin

Daymé speaks to us about her invitation to teach master classes at Berklee College of Music.

Berklee was an impossible dream to reach. As a Cuban I thought I’d never get there. I remember saying to someone “I wish I could study there” and they said “you could teach there”. Those students got the opportunity I didn’t have. I cannot believe that there are students who apply to Berklee singing my music. That’s huge!

Camila Cortina is one of the only students who got to study at Berklee from Cuba. She was my professor in Cuba, and she’s a student there now! Sometimes you don’t believe things that are happening to you, especially because in Cuba there is no opportunity. I wasn’t even allowed to perform in Cuba. 

In Cuba you need the permission of the government to perform, even if you’ve studied music at school. When you finish school you have to apply for permission to perform, and that obligation is a huge nightmare. I wanted to play my own music and have my own band. I applied three times and was denied. I remember the first global tour I did as Daymé Arocena, I was surprised that I didn’t need permission from other governments to perform. I didn’t know that that was just Cuba!

I started travelling the world, but I’d return to Cuba and not be allowed to perform. The government noticed that I was in The New York Times and The Guardian. The Minister of Culture said to me “they stole you from us!”. I said, “I was here! You denied me three times!”. I know people in the same situation. People who are so talented and not allowed to perform in Cuba.

There are a lot of statements to make as a Cuban artist. I need to speak for those who are still waiting for their chance. I believe if I have the good luck to do things, I don’t need to be selfish. Everything is pretty raw in Cuba, there is a lot of talent but people don’t get the opportunity or the information.

I try to speak about my community, my people. They are my biggest supporters. I don’t have many followers on Instagram, because they just got it, they don’t know how to use it! I have to speak for them. If they have a cell phone now, it doesn’t get the internet, it’s pretty old style.

Follow Daymé Arocena on Instagram, and listen to her music on TIDAL and Qobuz. Stay tuned for Part 2.

Women in Music

For International Women’s Day 2021 we created two playlists to celebrate some of the fantastic women in music. For our first playlist, Women Composers on TIDAL, we chose to celebrate women composers in classical music, highlighting a range of composers from 12th century Hildegard von Bingen to 19th century pioneer Louise Farrenc and contemporary composer Dobrinka Tabakova. 

Hildegard composed many liturgical songs along with academic writings, and is one of the first identifiable composers in western music. Here we feature her song O pastor animarum (O shepherd of our souls). 19th century pianist, composer, and teacher Louise Farrenc deserves a special mention as a pioneer of music scholarship and equal pay. Farrenc was the only woman to become a professor at the Paris Conservatory in the 19th century. Until 1870, women could not enroll in composition classes at the conservatory, and Farrenc was only allowed to teach piano, not composition. Despite this, Farrenc persevered with composition, producing a variety of orchestral, chamber, and piano works. Farrenc fought hard for equality, demanding equal pay to her male contemporaries. In her day, Farrenc was more famous for her piano playing than her composing, with her compositions becoming more well-known in the 21st century. Despite the barriers to women working in composition and creative arts, Farrenc received praise by Hector Berlioz and Robert Schumann in her time. In this playlist we feature Farrenc’s lyrical Cello Sonata in B-Flat Major, Op.46 – II. Andante sostenuto

Another French composer to study at the Paris Conservatory was 20th century Lili Boulanger. Boulanger was the first woman to win the Prix de Rome in 1913 for musical composition at the age of 19. She came from a musical family, and her sister Nadia Boulanger was a composer and conductor best known for teaching leading 20th century composers including Quincy Jones, Aaron Copland, and Philip Glass. Lili Boulanger also sang and played piano, violin, cello and harp, and studied with family friend Gabriel Fauré. Her catalogue includes orchestral, chamber, vocal, and choral works. Boulanger’s compositions are noted for the use of harmonies and text setting. In this playlist we feature Nocturne performed by Janine Jansen. 

Another pioneer of women’s rights in music was Amy Beach, an American pianist and composer of the 19th and early 20th centuries who wrote the first symphony composed by an American woman. Beach was a symbol of women’s rights during the suffrage movement, fighting hard for a woman’s place in the musical world. Beach famously expressed that “music is the superlative expression of life experience, and woman by the very nature of her position is denied many of the experiences that colour the life of man.” Another important woman composer of the early 20th century was Croatian countess Dora Pejačević. Pejačević, another composer born into a musical family, was the daughter of singer and pianist Baroness Lilli Vay de Vaya. Pejačević studied in Zagreb, Dresden and Munich and produced a wide catalogue of piano pieces, orchestral works, chamber music and songs.

Other composers included are Pauline Viardot, Clara Schumann, Teresa Carreño, Rebecca Clarke, Florence Price, Chiquinha Gonzaga, Poldowski, Ethyl Smyth, Margaret Bonds, Ruth Gipps, and contemporary composers Anna Clyne, Thea Musgrave, Isobel Waller-Bridge, Dobrinka Tabakova and Meredith Monk.

Our second playlist, Inspiring Women on Qobuz, features a mixture of iconic and contemporary female artists. We feature iconic artists such as Madonna, Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, Amy Winehouse, Billie Holiday, Carole King, Dolly Parton and Joni Mitchell. Contemporary highlights include the unique sounds of Norwegian jazz bassist and singer Ellen Andrea Wang and London-based jazz saxophonist Nubya Garcia. We feature Garcia’s Stand With Each Other from her pan-global album Source. Contemporary vocal highlights include Ane Brun, Joy Denalane, Kandace Springs, Kimberose, Lianna La Havas, Dominique Fils-Aimé, Celeste, and Jazzmeia Horn.

Sarah works on music editorial and research as part of Roon’s Music Team. Artists pictured from top to bottom: Jazzmeia Horn, Dominique Fils-Aimé.

Roon 1.8 preview (5 of 5)

An experience tailor-made for you

Whether you’re just starting with Roon or you’ve been building a listening history for years, our new updated Home screen gives you an all-new visualization of your listening habits.

You’ll see a calendar view of the last few weeks of listening, along with charts of your top genres, artists, and albums. These charts can display the last week, month, year, or all time, and you can drill down for even more detail.

We’ve also added quick links to our Community, so you’re always just one click away from support from us and our music experts.

Roon 1.8 preview (3 of 5)

Focus: far beyond “search”

Roon’s Focus feature has long been a powerful way to filter and sort the albums in your library using Roon’s extensive metadata. Our real aspiration has always been to make the power and flexibility of Focus available in more contexts.

To accomplish that goal, we redesigned Focus to combine multi-criteria filters with sort and text filter, creating a unified interface that’s available virtually everywhere in Roon. Now you can Focus on tracks on an album, artists in a genre, albums in an artist’s discography, or collaborations among artists.

The impact of this new design on classical music (and composer-based browsing in other genres) is profound. It’s now possible to Focus on compositions by period, instrumentation, and form, and to sort them by title, popularity, and composition date. You can now also browse albums which feature works by a composer.

While Focus once let you filter and sort the music in your library, it now extends to all the streaming music available on TIDAL and Qobuz, giving you a truly 360-degree view of artists and composers – whether you have their complete discographies in your library or not.

Tomorrow, we’ll be sharing a preview of the new features designed specifically for classical music!

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Context & meaning, powered by Valence

When you think of discovering new music, you may think of reading a great review, or finding that you love the opening act at a concert. You might imagine a conversation with a friend – maybe one who really knows their music history or stays on top of new releases – who happens to know what you like, too.

You probably don’t think of a network of servers analyzing the listening habits of zillions of users, using collaborative filtering to identify patterns in the data and find other content that you just might like. That’s the reality of algorithmic recommendation, though, which is why it often falls short of expectations.

Valence does more than compare you to other users. It uses Roon’s deep metadata as its foundation, providing context about music and connections between the people who compose, perform, and produce it. Next, it considers your listening history before filtering for the results that are most popular, but only among listeners who are experts in that genre.

This multidimensional approach is what gives Valence recommendations meaning. The very idea of “Top performers of works by Johannes Brahms” (or any of the examples in this post) would be impossible without a fundamental understanding of composers, genres, time periods, geography, compositions, form, instrumentation, performers, and collaborations.

Tomorrow, we’ll be sharing a preview of the new browsing tools available in Roon 1.8!

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A completely new look & feel

We’ve rolled out the latest version of Roon, which is so big that we’ve put together a series of feature previews to show off its highlights. Today, we bring you a peek at Roon’s completely new look and feel.

Roon now has a fresh new visual design that takes its inspiration from the concept of the museum – an airy, neutral environment in which to display things of beauty. You’ll see your music right where you want it: front and center.

True to our founding principles, we don’t think of music as data, and we don’t think it should be presented as if it were. We took cues from classic music magazines, using bold typography and innovative layout to bring music to life.

All this beauty is much more than skin deep. With our latest innovations in data presentation, Roon is now easier and more engaging to use than ever. More on that tomorrow!

Introducing Roon 1.8

Welcome to an immersive new music experience. A new look, new intelligence, and new features, designed for the community of experts that call Roon home.

A completely new look & feel

Roon now has a fresh new visual design that takes its inspiration from the idea of the museum – an airy, neutral environment in which to display things of beauty. We also took cues from classic music magazines, using bold typography and innovative layout to bring music to life. Along with innovations in data presentation, Roon is now a joy to use.

Context & meaning, powered by Valence

Roon goes far beyond the “algorithmic recommendations” you’ll find in mass-market streaming products. Using its deep metadata and an understanding of over 100,000 expert listeners from Valence, Roon now surfaces and suggests music with uncanny sensitivity and insight.

Focus: far beyond “search”

Roon’s Focus feature has long been the most powerful way to explore your own music, but now it goes beyond your library, giving you a 360º-view of artists, genre, performers, and composers. Filter and sort virtually any music in Roon by performer, producer, composer, label, and a wide variety of other parameters.

Classical music reimagined

The way you explore classical music is different; that’s why we’ve come up with a completely new visual style and information layout, designed to make it easy to find the classical recordings you’re looking for. Valence identifies relationships between composers, conductors, and performers – and helps weed out the no-name releases – so you can find well-regarded performances of any composition.

An experience tailor-made for you

Valence now makes suggestions based not only on context (what you’re looking at and what you’re listening to) but also on your taste. Right on Roon’s brand new Home page, you’ll see a dashboard which lets you explore your listening – both the fine-grained history of the last few weeks, and the statistical view of your listening over time.

🎶 Happy Holidays from Roon

We want to thank our subscribers  for everything you have done to help us improve Roon and grow our amazing community this year – we couldn’t have done it without you. 

We have lots of exciting plans for 2021 that we can’t wait to share with you, including new updates to our software  and making Roon compatible with even more fantastic audio products. 

If you need any support over the holidays, visit our new Help Center or head over to our Community and join in the discussions with thousands of other Roon subscribers.

To make your holiday season more musical, we’ve curated some festive playlists on TIDAL and Qobuz, including Christmas Carols, Fireside Jazz and Winter Warmers

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year! 

All our thanks,
The Roon Team