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Interview: Helado Negro

posted October 20, 2014, 9:46 am by Carlita | Filed Under Editorial, General Interest, Interviews | comment Leave a Comment


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Living as a bilingual and bicultural Latina naturally presents a constant theme of duality. The concept of not quite fitting into a neatly checked box of “What Are You?” or “¿Quíen es?” throughout child and adulthood, currently remains a daily reality. Ecuadorian-American musician Helado Negro knows this all too well and explores this idea in his latest effort ‘Double Youth’. Blurring several genres and featured on iTunes and NPR, this Miami raised, Brooklyn based artist’s worked with the likes of Devendra Banhart, Prefuse 73, Wilco’s Mikael Jorgensen, and Julianna Barwick. Spending his fall touring with Son Lux and Sinkane, he’s been described as creating “a sonic landscape that reflects 21st-century Latin America”.

I spoke to Helado before the latest tour began about dichotomy, random teen dream fests and hypothetical fire scenarios. Check out his answers below and get more tour and album info as he makes his way across the U.S. and Europe here!

How did you like growing up in Miami?

It was hot and humid and a lot of people spoke Spanish with a huge Cuban community presence in the city. It was a fun place to grow up and there was a lot of beach time.

In reading for the reviews for your album, the critics are zeroing on a dichotomous theme. There’s a lot of dual meanings, you sing in English and Spanish and it’s nostalgic but sad at the same time. What do you think about that?

Yes, there’s a lot of duality. The album is called ‘Double Youth’ and the album artwork is two kids and one of them is me. I sing in English and Spanish. A lot of the record is about being Latino and living in two cultures, living in a bubble in a concentrated Latin city and then moving to the real South, where it was segregated for me. It was segmented and then it was just black and white. Being Hispanic there, I don’t know what I was there. A lot of times, if you’re not black, you’re white. That was different for me.

When you’re Hispanic, you can be white, black, Chinese and we come in all different shapes, sizes and colors. The duality of being American and Latin-American is a constant push and pull. When I’m here, I’m Latino and Ecuadorian but when I’m in Latin America, I’m a gringo. The duality theme happens to us constantly.

If you could go back in time to yourself at 13 years old and throw a music festival, who would have played?

I was getting cool at that age because I had an older brother and an older cousin. I probably would have had Color Me Badd, Boogie Down Productions, Ice-T and some salsa for my mom, some Jerry Rivera and El General too.

If your house was on fire, what are five things you’d grab on the way out?

Assuming my wife is coming with me, I’d take a change of underwear, socks, toothbrush, a towel and my wallet. Those are the bare necessities, right? I just need to make it to the next day. Someone would do me a favor if they torched my place. (laughing) That was a joke.

Can you remember the first record that you heard and you thought “I want to do THAT”?

No, because all the music that inspires me is a mystery to me. It’s not like I ever felt I want to do what someone else is doing. When I listen to something that really strikes me, I think a lot of it has to do with the mystery of how they did it. I just felt really inspired and it was transcending. They found themselves and they found a way to access themselves to create something new. All the things that I’ve gravitated towards are things that do that.

Your music has been described as synth pop mixed with 80’s R&B. How would you describe it?

It’s impossible for me to describe it. I was raised in a Latino community and I was within that realm so I sing in English and Spanish. I played a show in DC recently and they put on the flyer I was “Avant Garde-Bolero”. I thought that was good because that doesn’t really mean anything. That’s why I call myself Helado Negro because it’s a flavor that doesn’t exist and something that you’re trying to figure out what it is. That’s what it is for me.

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