Early in his career, Roberto Carlos Lange – the leader and mastermind of Helado Negro – wrote a song that became an underground classic, “Young, Latin and Proud”. Although his audience took the song to heart, it was a song he wrote largely for himself.
“I wrote this in 2014 and thought of it as a message to myself when I was younger – to feel a little more confident and secure, and not notice all the differences between what was important to me and what was going on in my life,” said Lange, who performs with Helado Negro at Brighton Music Hall on Monday night. “So it was a meditation and a journey, kind of a time travel song .”
Lange’s music is a diverse mix of elements, including the Latin beats he grew up with (his family was made up of Ecuadorian immigrants) and the ambient pop he developed as a producer and remixer. When the group first started, he lived in Brooklyn and collaborated with a number of experimental performance artists, which also plays into his work. It may not fit conventional definitions of Latin music, but he says that’s the point.
“A lot of people can have a short-sighted view of what they hear. But Latin American music is anything and everything, it’s broad, vast and deep. And I identify a lot with the vastness of it all. I grew up in South Florida, which is really the capital of Latin America. So I’ve heard a lot of Latin pop music, a lot of crooners and a lot of folk music that l “one could identify with Americana. Then there was indigenous music, Andean music and things like cumbias which were more danceable. So I don’t necessarily strategize on how I shape my sound , but all of those things are now part of who I am.
He also keeps a foothold in the world of performance art: he recently wrote a new musical score for an exhibition of Andy Warhol period films and designed a “kite symphony” that was presented in Marfa, Texas for Earth Day. His live shows typically include “flashy mammals”, dancers in silver suits whose movements add a surreal element to the show.
“I grew up understanding music more as a visual language. And that grew out of making music and going to visual art school; I still speak this language and I work this way. I describe the music I make as textures and colors – not synesthetically (the artistic term for evoking one meaning through another), but as part of the vocabulary I have to work with.
But his latest album, “Far In,” also sounds great on its own. Largely written during the shutdown, it ended up being an optimistic record, at least on the surface.
“I really wanted to do it with friends in the studio, but the pandemic hit and there was a lot of estrangement, so you work with what you have. It’s more optimistic, but there’s also a lot of introspection. I feel like the aesthetic of this album is very immediately sweet, but there are more layers as you get into it. It’s like a cake: you have the icing on the outside and we know how it tastes. But if you’re really into cake, you’ll want to go deeper into the layers.