Helado Negro, The Music in Many Possible Existences

El Sonido
Albina Cabrera

Lee la versión en español de este artículo aquí.

It has been a hard year. I say this and the palpitations, tingling, and pain in my chest, confirm again and again the emotional fiasco brought on by the virus, leaving a mark and scar on all aspects of life as we knew it. In a spinning reality, in the midst of a year full of ruined plans, irreversible losses, and socio-political volcanoes erupting throughout the world, my annual balance has as its true winner the inner trip of disconnection and reconnection that music has taken me to. Music, in general, has been a bridge of salvation, but especially the work of Roberto Carlos Lange, better known as Helado Negro. 

Lange journeyed with us through 2020 by uploading a super trippy sound file on his personal Bandcamp profile, releasing orchestral scraps and experimental mantras as compiled in the Love 1, 2, 3 & 4 EP. As Helado Negro, he released a remix of the song "Love Song" by Devendra Banhart, the incredible collaboration with Xenia Rubinos came to light with the song and video for "I Fell in Love", and he even shared a cover of Neil Young’s "Lotta Love", released via 4AD, featuring Flock Of Dimes, and Banhart's voices.

Roberto has without a doubt prepared a message for us that is repeated over and over again: LOVE. I contacted him a few days ago from his studio in New York to check how his year was, what he thinks about the healing power of music, and talk about EVERYTHING that happened in 2020: pandemic, elections, and nothing else.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Roberto and visual artist Kristi Sword were in residency at Ballroom Marfa (Texas) working on a new impressionist film with a live score called "Kite Symphony." This crossing inspired them to add the musical and visual conceptual collaboration, "Kite Symphony, Four Variations" recorded at Marfa Recording Company based on graphic scores created by Sword.

Lange: We were working on the project at Ballroom Morse and then we were able to make a music or sound project out of that as well. So there are all these things that hadn't happened and then did happen and things that we didn't know are going to happen, just like life. We were able to make a music project we called Kite Symphony. Christie made these visual scores, part of some of her drawing and practice.

And I used those scores as an abstract way to generate sound and music, and I worked with some local musicians, and so... I think part of my DNA is to realign whatever kind of anxieties I have to these more creative processes and I don't know I just I'm hard-wired. It wasn't necessarily something that I have chosen to do, it's what I do. It's a blessing and it's a curse. I have to or I kind of go crazy. It's hard. This opportunity gave me the perspective to kind of like learn that about myself, "Wow, ok, you have to go to sleep or even like, I don't know, working out or something."

It was on this same platform, Bandcamp, that Roberto Carlos released a sound game, Love 1,2,3 & 4, which became my ritual every morning when I woke up or when it was hard to go to sleep. The orchestral pieces and the almost impossible sound stretching that make up the four pieces, result in musical medicine. Confession: An experience that naturally lowered my anxiety, I managed to find my way to rest and chased away ghosts.

The Latin diaspora in New York, particularly the one that integrates Helado Negro at a generational level, along with Buscabulla, Xenia Rubinos, or the young Ela Minus, is one with a very characteristic sound and with a very evident human connection. This is clear in their multiple collaborations and in the impact of the recent albums released by all those mentioned. 2020 was the year where we met the radiant universe of “I Fell in Love”, a song by Helado Negro in collaboration with his dear friend, Xenia Rubinos.

Lange: Xenia and I have known each other for a long time and we're super friends and she's a sister. I love her so much and more than that, I like her work, I respect her so much, and admire her work so much. She's a deep part of different parts of my life. We've worked on different things together, but we started working in the studio last year and making different things and we finished it all at my house and it was a special connection in terms of creating this song, and I think it was an opportunity for us to explore some things we hadn't explore in terms of songs. It just kind of happened that way.”

The video for this song was directed by Bad Bunny's Creative Director, Stillz. "I discovered Roberto’s music while on tour with Bad Bunny, his little brother would play Helado Negro when we traveled,” Stillz explains. "From the moment I first heard his music, I really fell in love with the sound. I'm afraid of flying so I can never sleep on planes. But when I first started listening to his music it would help me calm down and fall asleep, that's when I really knew there was something special to his sound”.

Helado Negro told us about working with Stillz for the video, “we were very honest with each other, it was like "I don't like this" or "yeah, I like this", but it was nice, it was very genuine flow”.

What happens to Stillz is revealing to me because it is very similar to what he generates for me and many people and friends who follow his music. That ability to overcome a trauma to which he lovingly subjects us with his sound. We asked Lange what he thinks about that and he told us:

Lange: I don't remember a lot about the process. When I'm working on the final part, when I'm mixing it or I'm trying to figure it out to share, it's more about not trying to overthink it, you know, and not trying to attach heavy intentions. For me, I think the most important work with making music is understanding the conversation between the flow of sound and whatever you're making, and if you're trying to assign something like "this song is about Wednesday morning anxieties",  it loses meaning for me. It becomes something that's dictating parameters that don't allow it to live outside of what it could be and I think that it's not part of my process."

"I want the music to be possible to live in many possible existences. It can be anything and for anyone.” 

Not only did the pandemic generate anxiety and exasperating moods, but the political climate in the United States, with the presidential elections and social movements calling for justice like Black Lives Matters, ended up sealing a year where no one was unharmed.

Lange: It was hard. I think in politics, always going to be so divisive. We're always pressured to feel and understand. There's a lot of radical dissent and a lot of movement, movements and people taking to the streets and like during the summer for, you know, racial justice specifically. I think that was something that specifically was brought to the forefront for a lot of people who hadn't had these conversations before or possibly, in terms of like more specifically, like the Black Lives Matter movement and more specifically what that means in terms of the police violence in the United States. Those that haven't experienced some sort of violation of their own personal space with police maybe don't understand.

It's really hard to kind of have these complicated conversations in a short period of time. And I think that was the hardest thing about this year and these elections and like all this stuff, because everybody's trying to have conversations about it in one day and solve these problems in one day and have people understand everything in one day. 

And I think there's a lot that you're not going to understand just yet, and there's a lot that I'm learning about my own world with you know, where I am and in terms of like community and in terms of what I need for myself to kind of like to grow, and I think that's the hardest thing about this year. And I think for artists to be involved in whatever they want to be involved in, I think that's really important. That's been really kind of like a cool tool to be able to, like, donate your work to these opportunities, because I do think it's a gratifying feeling.”

Helado Negro has released a cover of Neil Young's "Lotta Love". This single is Helado Negro's first release on 4AD. This new version of "Lotta Love" was recorded with the upcoming U.S. election and global crises on Roberto Carlos Lange's mind. "I was captivated by the song’s sincerity and wondered how to make a version that compelled you to step closer to the words," he explains. "Creating this version helped me find some sonic respite and hopefully it does the same for others." 

Helado Negro listens to great music. I had no proof of this but neither did I have doubts, so I asked him directly about his musical worldview and he responded by sharing this playlist that I can't stop listening to:

Helado Negro confessed that he has “a dream” which is to work on a song with the Argentine artist, Juana Molina, and with the Venezuelan artist based in the United States, Maria Marquez. Of the latter he assures that's "in love with her music" and with this album in particular:

In a few days the year ends and if I have to make a musical wish, it is that by 2021, Helado Negro will give us more music. 

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