Helado Negro: ‘I’m trying to make music I can grow old with’

Young, Latin and proud, the Brooklyn-based musician writes about insecurity and self-discovery an oasis of contemplation amid anti-immigrant rhetoric

Roberto Carlos Lange known as Helado Negro is an Ecuadorian American artist with an unprecedented sound. His music is a soothing, dreamlike collage of live and unorthodox instruments, and the 36-year-old musician uses his voice in so many absorbing ways, it almost feels as if youre not listening to a person. I like to utilize my voice as a new instrument, says Lange, who is based in Brooklyn. And when you hear songs in Spanish, for example, there are so many beautiful, flowery and exaggerated words that you can really mess with and they end up sounding like something else.

Having grown up in south Florida as a first generation American with Ecuadorian parents, Lange makes music deeply connected to his roots and bicultural identity. In 2015s Young, Latin and Proud, he code-switches between English and Spanish, calling for unity among Americas Latino community through understanding who we are and appreciating those who came before us.

Tu abuela [your grandmother] es young, Latin and proud, tus padres [your parents] son young, Latin and proud, he sings on the record. One day youll be old, Latin and proud. Pitchfork, the online music magazine, poignantly described the message as a dream of a colorfully varied, empowered group of people, walking confidently toward the sunset.

For us [US Latinos], especially in south Florida, growing up between English and Spanish is so common, he tells me, and in a way it kind of sustains the cadence and rhythm of life, so my process ends up being a larger part of that.

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The song is featured on Helado Negros fifth studio album, Private Energy, an internal, atmospheric journey of self-discovery in which he explores the meaning of his own place in society and celebrates his Latino roots. His single, Its My Brown Skin, proudly celebrates what it means to be brown, confronting issues of marginalization and the anti-immigrant views that regularly circulate in our newsfeed thanks to the rhetoric of Donald Trumps campaign.

It feels good to be brown, Lange told Vibe in September. And I want all the other people who live in the US who might fear that their brown skin brings them trouble to use this as a meditation or a mantra. It works: thanks to the records summery soundscape, when you listen to it, you cant help but smile. Its essentially a love song to himself and his race.

Above all, however, Helado Negro (which means black ice cream) is an experimental musician, and more than willing to take his studio experimentations onstage. As he travels across America on his biggest US tour to date, he is backed by the Tinsel Mammals, performers covered head to toe in tinsel foil who interpret his music through dance.

Lange created the concept and costumes with the help of the visual artist Kristi Sword, his wife. The Tinsel Mammals are not touring performers but volunteers selected by Lange in each city. The beautiful thing about the people who volunteer is that they are people who always wanted to do performance art or wanted to be onstage, but were too afraid to do so, says Lange. So the costumes, in a way, offer anonymity and safety.

Lange says these performers represent the audiences insecurities, and by watching them, we can feel more comfortable in our own skins. In one way or another we are all insecure I feel fat or this shirt doesnt fit me so these performers wash that all away, and they dont think about any of that. Theyre all safe, able to express themselves and have a private energy, to be able to put it out there delicately and not have to always guard it.

Rather than overtly seeking to grab headlines, Private Energy explores self-discovery and growth. Helado Negro says he is not interested in trends but rather how music can help us evolve. Im just trying to make anything whether its art, music or anything visual that I can grow old with, Lange says. Something that is continually a part of me and not just create something to try and stay relevant.

As we end the interview, Lange gives me a gift: a cassette copy of Private Energy. As I thank him and hold it in my hand, I am immediately reminded of my own childhood and how much I loved making mixtapes. His gesture brings back so many memories, taking me back to a simpler time. And thats the impact of Helado Negro: his music helps you reflect on the simplicity and beauty of your own place in the world.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/oct/12/helado-negro-music-private-energy

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