Pan Caliente @ LAMC: Helado Negro Interview

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This week, Raul Campos & I are in NYC, interviewing and recording acoustic sessions with some of the burgeoning acts that are participating in the 18th installment of the Latin Alternative Music Conference.

Let’s jumpstart our coverage with a Q&A featuring an artist that is as synonymous with NY as LAMC… Helado Negro.

Photo: Ben Sellon (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Pan Caliente: When critics talk about the indie Latin music scene on the east coast, your name is often referenced in the context of New York, and vice versa. Was there a conscious effort on your part to become sort of a beacon artist for this genre and the city?

Helado Negro: I’ve never seen myself as a beacon representing any particular style of music, art, or type of person here in NY — I’m just as much in the mix as anyone else sharing their creative output. There is a conscious effort on my end to look for music / sound and people that have similar ideas and philosophical approaches in their creative output. This inspires me to create and see how people use their identity and upbringing to create something detached from any cliché and build themselves up through a sincere form of expression. When you see that — or hear that — you feel that. Internally, it makes me feel so many different ways. Like, “Damn, I should be at home working” or “I want to meet this person and talk to them about everything all at once.”

If I have one conscious effort, it is to change people’s thoughts about when they say to me “I can hear your Latin roots” in your music.

PC: Describe the music scene in Brooklyn for someone who, to quote your lyrics, is “Young, Latin, & Proud”?

HN: I’m maybe a bad person to ask this. I’m out of town touring so much that when I’m home I tend to not seek out more music since I’m hearing so much every night. BUT the music scene is RICH here. People are really doing their thing — there are so many avenues and places to see it. From YLP techno producers playing out at Bossa Nova Civic Club or the Lot Radio show to free jazz musicians playing at Nublu. It’s not one specific address you can or should go to; the spectrum is wide and beautiful.

PC: Is there one cohesive music scene of artists all collaborating in New York? Or is there fragmentation? Like the Latin musicians only groove with themselves, etc?

HN: I’m sure there is a scene collaborating. I’m just not hip to it all. Labels like Names You Can Trust or Discwoman are actively creating organized ways to create new directions for the artists they represent and how they are represented. I think they are making some great work. Some form of fragmentation is always healthy because it’s where outliers live until they can find / make their own way. Most of us are outliers.

PC: do you prefer to be on the road? Do you feel out of place when you leave NYC?

HN: I prefer to be at home. The road means work. I love working but there are in-between moments that make the road difficult. It pays off but it’s not my first choice. NYC is abundant, we have so much here. I miss it, for sure.

PC: Not many artists can pull off great bilingual songs, you seem to do it with great ease and amazing albums, what would you say is the secret ingredient?

HN: I’ve always tried to use what I have. My secret is that I’ve never had much. I was brought up by people who had a lot of love and not a lot of money. So we did what we could. I was lucky to have great mentors. I think while creating, the most important thing you can do is listen. Also, seek insight from people you love and respect. There is a long history of people who sang in two languages in one song. A big inspiration for me was Caetano Veloso. He is a real beacon for that.

PC: You’ve performed at LAMC in the past. Will you be heading out see any shows later this week? Are there any artists you are excited about seeing during LAMC?

HN: I would love to see Princess Nokia, IFE, Tei Shi, and Alex Anwandter.

PC: Lastly, our blog, Pan Caliente, focuses on emerging new artists, but we obviously can’t listen to every new project. Anybody new we should be paying attention to?

HN: Definitely take a listen to these two projects.

Niños Indigo

Standing on The Corner

Helado Negro comes to Los Angeles on August 17, performing at the Regent Theatre.

(Cover photo: Anna Grothe Shive)