Dayren Santamaria’s voice is warm, spilling over the phone and flowing easily between nostalgia and passion. The Cuban-born, LA-based violin player summed up the message of her music like this:
“It’s about transformation. In the midst of anything, you can make beauty.”
The theme runs through our conversation, deep undercurrents of history bubbling up into music to make everyday life sing. Santamaria is all about transformation – Cuban to Cuban-American, classical music to Cuban music.
“I am from Matanzas where rumba was born.” Santamaria told me when I asked about her sound, crediting her hometown first and family second. “There was always music in my house. When I started playing the violin, it was just classical music, because I was in the symphony orchestra.”
Ironically, Santamaria didn’t start playing popular Cuban music until she moved to the States, while earning her Master’s Degree in Tampa. “I realized this was what I really wanted to do,” she said. “My music is beautiful melodies, always with the African rhythm behind, the rumba rhythm behind. Even when I’m improvising, I look for the melodies, because I want to give my beauty, not my dissonance” – she laughs – “not my issues!”
It was in LA that Santamaria began to make and record her own music. Here she met piano player Oscar Hernandez. “There was one arrangement that he did, Baila que Baila, where when he played that song I couldn’t stop dancing!” Santamaria said. “I asked if he could do an arrangement for violin.”
The partnership lasted, with Hernandez arranging chords for the melodies that Santamaria would write for the violin, and eventually adding players to grow into the band Made in Cuba, who will be opening for Cuba’s progressive rock group Síntesis on August 25. “I’m so excited,” Santamaria says, “I remember when I first heard the album where Síntesis started to blend Afro-Cuban music with rock. I so identified with it.”
It means a lot for the group to be in Los Angeles. They weren’t able to enter the U.S. for 30 years, only touring the States for the first time in 1997 despite being founded in 1976. Over 20 years after Síntesis’ first visit, Santamaria explains to me what the lifting of sanctions has meant for the music:
“When the country opened, so many people came back [from Cuba] super excited about the music. Even though there are buildings almost falling apart, so much of the beauty and charm comes from the people, from their hearts. They know how to have fun with very little, and you can feel that heart in the music.”
Identifying as both black and Hispanic, Cuban and Cuban-American, Santamaria is present to strains of colonial violence and oppression that still ring through society today – but she sees her art as a way to transform that into beauty.
“We are all borrowing this place, even this universe,” Santamaria says. “Afro-Cuban music came from colonial slavery in Cuba, it came from slaves drumming and crying out what they were going through, mixed with religion from the Spaniards. From all that pain, something beautiful and wonderful came. That’s the beauty of life as well.”
Santamaria sees music as a way of transforming the dissonance of the world into melody. How appropriate that she is opening for Síntesis, whose name translates to “synthesis,” the reconciliation of an idea (thesis) and its flaws (antithesis) into a new idea, something more true and beautiful than the sum of its parts.
- By Brian Sonia-Wallace
See Síntesis & Dayren Santamaria perform at the Ford Theatres on Friday, August 25 at 8:30 PM. Tickets and info here.