Cuban Jazz Singer Daymé Arocena’s Advice for Young Musicians, in Five Videos

If any of the young people in your life are fledgling musicians, they may be trying to develop their skills or expand their knowledge about the art they want to create. They may be looking for inspiration. Or they may be interested in learning from other artists – even those who emerge from different musical genres.

The Library’s Music Division recently produced a series of educational videos with Daymé Arocena, a Cuban jazz singer and songwriter, to support young artists. In the first four videos of the series, Arocena offers insights related to musical techniques, history, and more: “Vocal Improvisation”; “Afro-Cuban Rhythms”; “Afro-Cuban Influences in Music”; and “Music Composition.”

In the fifth video, “Five Tips for Emerging Artists,” she provides some general advice for budding artists on how to embrace their individuality and also commit to personal growth:

Here are the five pieces of advice that Arocena shares in this video, as well as some takeaways from the overall series:

1. Find your own voice.

Arocena describes the importance of self-discovery and establishing one’s own identity amidst others. She also alludes to this in her segment on Vocal Improvisation. In that video, when describing improvisation – in music and elsewhere – she likens it to “freedom of expression.” Reflecting on her own experience growing up in Cuba with limited access to jazz, for example, she shares how she had to “create my own techniques, by listening to myself, by exploring myself, and at the same time not being afraid of that process.”

How have the young people in your life tried to find their own voice?

(For more resources on improvisation, explore the blog post “Exploring Performance and Improvisation at the Library of Congress.”)

2. Listen to a lot of music and 3. Learn as much as you can.

Arocena reminds us that the musical landscape is vast and diverse, and suggests listening widely. She also recommends expanding one’s knowledge not just of music itself, but of related areas like the music business, musical techniques, technologies, and beyond.

For some inspiration, invite the musicians you know to watch her segments on Afro-Cuban Rhythms and Afro-Cuban Influences in Music. In these videos, she describes the diverse historical origins and traditions of Cuban music — including influences from indigenous groups and enslaved people. She also explains and demonstrates two variations of la clave: the Cuban clave and the rumba clave. (For more on the clave, explore the blog post “Getting a Feel for the Clave in Jazz”)

Research guides that include resources related to music and performing arts might also be of interest. And for even more musical inspiration, you might browse the selection of concerts from the Library of Congress.

What is one piece of information or skill that the young musicians in your life have learned that has had an influence on their creativity?

4. Stay real and true.

Similar to finding one’s own voice, Arocena suggests that staying authentic and having self-confidence and fun can help young people find their “spark.”

How do the youth artists in your life describe what sets them apart from others?

5. Keep your ears, mind, and heart open.

Ultimately, Arocena reiterates the importance of being open-minded, but also “humble” as a means to “keep growing.” In this vein, in her segment on Music Composition, she provides encouraging reminders to young people that “[t]here is no right or wrong way to write a song, but there are always things that you can do to improve your songwriting.” And for those who might feel stuck or uninspired in the creative process, she reminds us that “inspiration is everywhere,” and adds: “You don’t have to be afraid if inspiration doesn’t come to you naturally. There are so many ways to catch that inspiration, and you just have to train yourself to pick it up.”

After considering these tips, you might ask young musicians to reflect a bit more: how do their environment and the world around them influence them creatively? How do they find inspiration?

Let us know in the comments!

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