Helado Negro

Photography by Justin Hollar

From the opening song that is the Tropicalia-infused sweetness of “Venceremos,” Roberto Carlos Lange’s new solo album under the moniker Helado Negro rocks and lulls like a hammock swaying in a cool ocean breeze. As it should—the Prefuse 73 musician has been busy mining the fields of Latin American lullabies for his new album, Awe Owe.

Hushed, delicate vocals by Guillermo Scott Herren (Prefuse 73), Bear in Heaven front man Jon Philpot—as well as Lange himself—ebb and flow throughout, sung entirely in Spanish. While reverb-laden instrumentation and record samples synthesize and verge on glitch pop flirtatiously, the music maintains heavy Latin American and Afro-Caribbean folk roots.

The general mood and concept of Awe Owe, according to Lange, greatly lends itself to Latin American lullabies, which he says gives a sense of “metaphysical happiness.” In the album’s title, the “Awe” expresses his outlook on the past, while “Owe” references the future; his understanding that there is much more to learn. “The themes [in the album] are metaphysical in a sense that one foot is on the ground, and another in the air,” Lange says. “Lullabies have this small message but also create a very metaphysical atmosphere.”

Brought up in south Florida, Lange was raised by Ecuadorian parents with highly influential musical tastes (his father was fond of Ecuadorian balladeer Julio Jaramillo). He says that he chose to sing in Spanish in order to reach out to other first generation immigrant children, spreading messages of community and connectivity.

His father’s late night parties, or peñas, provided a strong foundation for these messages, where neighborhood friends would gather for singing, dancing, and general revelry.

“A lot of the music would be played on cajón, requinto, and guitar, with someone singing,” he says. “And the themes of the songs would kind of take on ideas of taking care of each other; a lot of the songs were in that vein.”

Lange has a theory on reaching out and affecting people through music: “Like the Beatles affected everyone in the world, the indigenous movement really affected the music of Latin America,” he says. “So if you cross ‘60s and ‘70s rock with indigenous music, you’re going to have the majority of what a lot of people are influenced by.”

Now operating out of NYC, the Prefuse 73 producer is also currently working with Savath & Savalas, while collaborating with visual artist David Ellis on a series of kinetic sculptures. When asked how big city living influences his music, Lange says, “You get a broader sense of human beings and the way they are. Not to downplay living in the suburbs, but here you’re kind of forced into situations that are uncomfortable. It makes you go into different directions and try something new.” That, he says, is exactly what prompted him to sing.

While Lange’s debut album as Helado Negro is set to release next month, he has already pieced together a group of eclectic musicians for a few upcoming live shows. Among them are double bass player Jason Ajemian, known for his experimental free jazz; and Yeasayer percussionist Jason Trammell. Lange says he hopes to continue producing music under the Helado Negro name, although he has no set plans. Wherever the tropical wind may take him musically, one can only hope that Lange continues along with “one foot on the ground and another in the air.”

– Amity Bacon