Vibrant Electronic Miami Duo Release Fourth Full-Length Bilingual Album
Miami marks an epicenter for the truly eclectic and vibrant. A place where rhythm meets city lights and dancing meets the sunrise, two Cuban-american musicians found their way into a breaking a new sound in electronica. Blending the hybrid of the lyricism and vocals of Cuci Amador and the synth-centric producer Smurphio, Afrobeta was birthed and took their love for catchy songwriting, Cuban pastries and dancing the night away into a long lasting music career.
Behind this magic, Afrobeta fuses the worlds of traditional latin rhythms and electro-synth beats. Their product culminating in a fresh, energetic and spirited sound that can instantly fill and fuel a dance floor. Late 2020 saw the release of Afrobeta’s latest and most ambitious project yet, Illusion Motel. A bilingual album that sits neither completely in Electronic, or in Latin but dances on every blurred line of the assorted range of musical influences that raised them that creates their magical, musical surrealism.
Highlark had the chance to speak with Smurphio on the eve of their latest album release for Illusion Motel to chat about the creative process in quarantine, embracing a reinvention of their roots and stepping outside of genre binaries.
How are you doing in the midst of this very unexpected world were living in?
Nothing to complain about. I keep surviving and thinking positive. I try not to watch the news and stay away from the media. I actually watch this show and its just squirrels eating out of a feeder, it’s the most peaceful, Zen thing. As a musician its been a little tough, but financially I’m thankfully still hanging on.
Congratulations on the release of Illusion Motel. Quarantine has really provided the space and time for creative to work on their art. Was this the result of a quarantine project or has it been in the works for a while?
If it wasn’t for COVID, I don’t think we would’ve finished this album. We’ve been working on it for four years but had been so busy working on so many things that we just never found the time to finish it. Then when COVID shut us down and we couldn’t play live music anymore, we focused on the album and finished it within a couple months. We just tried to make the best out of this and I’m thankful for COVID, which I know sounds a bit like an oxymoron, but we would’ve never been able to finish it. Ok, actually we would’ve, but who would’ve known when.
The title of the album, Illusion Motel, references this idea that everything is not what it appears. You all stated that “this is a concept of reinterpretation not misinterpretation.” Can you elaborate more on what that means exactly? How do you interpret that concept while making the music?
Oh man, I wish Cuci was here! Unfortunately she’s out on a hike right now but that concept, the meaning behind it, that’s her thing and I just don’t want to answer it incorrectly. Cuci comes from a writing background and she reads a lot, so there is always some mystery in the meaning. I’m definitely more about the music. Our sound is kind of distorted and all over the place. We are electronic, but every song is different. So to me, I just aim to find the stories in the music.
It seems that theme, a need for reinvention and reexamination, is very timely to what were all experiencing. You had been working on this for years, but was there intention on releasing it during a moment like this?
There wasn’t an intention aside from the fact we felt it was finally finished and ready. The songs are 3-4 years old, so sometimes its easy to feel guilty that our album doesn’t have anything to do with the political crises were in. Some of our newer songs have traces of those themes, like women and inequality in the workplace, but there isn’t an intended deep meaning behind the album. It is a very comical take and culmination of what we’ve been going through these last years and not just what’s happening right now directly.
The personal can be very political, and if the album is a culmination of your life stories, it can still carry messages that people can relate too, even in a changing world. The fact artists are still finding the will and means to make and put out new music during this time is important. People need the lighthearted too. There’s such saturation of heavy news, that some people need the escapism that music provides.
Absolutely, I’m glad that people can look at it this way! That’s the beauty of art, its interpreted however people consume it. But I also can’t wait for our next batch of songs that will be reflective of what we’ve been going through now. That’s the thing, It’s such a process to make good music because it takes a long time, a song might take years to make. Its crazy. But thank goodness for music. We’re living in such a revolution where were stuck at home all day and there’s still so much content to hear or watch and I find it definitely is getting us through these times. Music is a good distraction. And making it is even more of a distraction. I can spend days making it and have no idea not know what’s going on. It’s kinda great actually.
I see what looks like a studio set up behind you at home. Was this album produced mostly in house (in a very literal sense)?
Yeah! We write our songs on acoustic instruments and then we have a home studio in the back. Nothing fancy, just a room that has all of our gear in it. We recorded, mixed, produced, the whole thing and operation here. All the vocals, all the production is ours, from scratch. We didn’t master it here though, that’s the only thing that wasn’t done here.
You’ve been working together for 15 years – and now partners in quarantine creating music. At this point do you feel like its easier or harder to work with someone after that long?
Oh, I think it gets much easier every second. We’ve gotten very rhythmic. There’s always room for improvement and you’re always learning something new. We get better every time we do it, which is great. The trick to getting better though is to not quit and keep doing it. And music is great, because you can keep doing it until you’re old. I’m better now than I was 20 years ago, and that’s great. So the process is always getting easier. The trick is always just – how to turn that into money.
That seems like the biggest question during COVID that no one in the music industry has been able to answer or figure out just yet.
It really is. It’s “how do you monetize?” That’s a big question. We have the freedom right now to be working on our music the whole time because we’re not gigging. But once we make the album, then its time to figure out how to allow that to make some money because…we’re not gigging.
The album is out, and really great. “Chancletazo” (translation: the folkloric and traumatizing act of being punished with a sandal by a mother) is your leading single for the album. Illusion Motel is a bilingual, yet more English leaning album. Was there a specific reason a Spanish language track was chosen as the leading single?
Yes! First off, were perfectly bilingual, hablamos Español perfecto and we speak English perfect. In 2010, we started working with a label and they didn’t want us to write in Spanish. They;’d tell us “Electronic music should only be in English.” So we thought “we’ll they’re paying for our life, so ok, no problem we don’t have to write in Spanish.” Then we stopped working with them and we were our own entity again. We love writing in Spanish and realized it was such a big part of our life. We’re super Latinx, and from Miami, which is like the most bilingual city. So realizing were living in an extremely bilingual society overall, it was super normal for us to want to do music in Spanish. We never did it before, so were like “You know what, lets just do it! Why not?”
So it was kind of your declaration to say Latinx making bilingual music can be successful in electronic music too?
Yeah, absolutely. We were always writing songs in Spanish. We both write it and love it. We’re already successful in America, so we were exploring something we felt for a long time we weren’t able to do but now fully embracing being Spanish Speaking Cuban-Americans.
From visuals to sound, a lot of your inspiration is now pulled from your roots in your Latinidad. It has very rhythmic undertones of Latin sounds but they’re twisted into modern electronica and experimental surrealism. Where are some places you draw that inspiration from?
Absolutely! We have our foot in both doors, which helps because it expands our horizons as songwriters. I think it’s embracing this musical style Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It can be our curse because I think our biggest problem has always been were too folky for electronic people, and were too electronic for folky, acoustic rock people. But on the flip side, its always our blessing because we’re music whores and we just like it all, the full extremes. Our secret sauce is the reality is that we write the songs so we’re able to perform them folk style with acoustic guitars or pianos, or we can do it à la electronic music producer style.
It’s been interesting to see a lot of Latinx music in more recent times embracing the complexities of their music libraries. For a long time Latin music was very much kept in boxes – but now everyone is embracing a very multi-faceted music mentality.
You know why that is? – I feel its because everyone can make music now. You don’t need to go to a fancy studio, or be told by a record executive what to do. We live in a really beautiful time where any kid with the drive and garage band can make the music that they want to. I love it when people bring in their roots and turn it into their own thing. Its what makes music so beautiful.
Have you felt any shift in the music industry as it’s moved to the more digital and more accessible?
I feel like everyone in the music industry, especially musicians, are learning how to make music in their homes. What I think is happening is while the production level and quality may not the best, because that really takes time to learn how to do well, the ideas are there. And everyone is only going to get better at music production and technology is only going to get cheaper. With gigs being done [for now], and people stuck at home, musicians are going to get better at controlling their own music process and I’m really excited to see what comes from that.
Now that your latest album is out, what can fans expect next from Afrobeta?
We have a couple of friends that are going to do remixes for us – so well be putting those out over the next few weeks. We’ll continue selling our merchandise, and of course just waiting for things to pick back up again. We would love for that time to open a few more doors in Latin America and broaden our horizons in that sense, we’d love to get down there and play our music live for new audiences.