Hosts Camila Montañez and New Latin Wave director Sokio dig into many of the super cool things happening in the Latinx cultural multiverse. In this episode, we learn more about Puerto Rican composer Angélica Negrón, electronica producer and DJ DEBIT and photographer Melissa Saenz Gordon previews an upcoming exhibition of #MujeresRadicales at the Brooklyn Museum.
~ TRANSCRIPTION ~ 01 We Are Here Mi Gente!
Angélica Negron When I lived in Puerto Rico I I felt a little bombarded by all the popular music like salsa, reggaeton. I was raised in the place where reggaeton was born so I was writing music a lot to escape from that and I started writing a lot of ambient music and things that were very contrasting.
Sokio Welcome to the New Latin Wave! This is Sokio.
Camila And I am Camila Montañez, we are super excited mi gente!
Sokio Yeah, this is our first episode. We're bringing you music, literature, food, artists, you name it.
Camila And they all have one thing in common. These are all Latino, Latina artists, Latinx creators.
Sokio What is the New Latin Wave? We’re not sure. We're going to explore this new Latin wave and the ones that have come before. What defines it, what's in there? Where is it going? We'll look at the work of Latin American and Latino artists and thinkers here in the US.
Camila And today our first episode is with Angélica Negrón, una puertoriqueña who makes electronic music using vegetables.
Sokio I can't believe it.
Camila This is La Isla Magica. Angélica Negrón was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. This thirty-seven-year-old composer brings to the music scenario a combination of classical and new sounds. She uses violin, accordion, electronic and robotic sounds. Negron learned piano and violin at the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico. Later on she created the electro-acoustic pop group Balún. She left the island to come to New York City to do a master's in music composition at NYU and is now pursuing a PhD at the CUNY Graduate Center.
Camila She's written and composed for festivals, ensembles and feature films. In June Negrón is presenting Pasajero, a collection of three ambient pop songs for voice, live electronics, vegetable synth, and mechanic instruments build by Nick Gilman. I mean her craft is insane. She makes music using pretty much any element she thinks has cool authentic sounds.
Angelica So I write a lot of electronic music, but I would say that 99% of the electronic music I write is based on acoustic sounds that I record or found sounds, literally sounds that I find in my kitchen or like pots and pans and things like that. So I use those for the live performance to but I also record them and manipulate them.
Angelica I love like doing very simple manipulations to sound so that they transform into something else, so they are a little familiar, and they sound kind of warm and domestic in a sense, but that there's also a little bit of mystery behind them. So a lot of the things I do are like taking out the attack of a sound like hitting a teapot or a pot that has a big resonance and then taking out the attack and just leaving that big resonance, it sounds like a bell.
Camila Okay, so Negron performed on the main stage at our festival last year in Brooklyn. Her show is not a typical one. She plays solo. There is no guitar, bass or any drums. The instruments she uses are made from containers full of water, plates, pots, music boxes and vegetables. And she adds her voice as a layer in her music.
Angelica I have veggie synth that I use I'm using an interface called Ottoto and basically it works with anything that conducts electricity. So I've done it with water, I've done a water synthesizer before. It works with metal, anything that conducts electricity. But I like to find things that match I feel the textures of my songs, and the colors so I'm very picky about vegetables I get. And then I just arrange it as a keyboard.
Camila Angelica’s inspiration to create music with electronic and acoustic sounds comes from different experiences in her life. We spoke about some of the factors that influence for work, being a Latina women and seeing other women experimenting with new approaches to performing music.
Angelica I'm very influenced by sounds around me and the world as an instrument, so thinking about the possibilities of anything that people don't think as musical for making music, that's really exciting to me. But also I would say that I think 90% of a music I listen to is by Latinx artists. I love the work especially of female Latino artists like Ela Minus I love, Lido Pimienta, Mula, Rita Indiana, a band from Puerto Rico that’s long been gone, but I still listen to them all the time called Super Aquella. And also Noia from Spain too I really love. So yeah, I'm really influenced by Latinx artist, but I think mostly from female ones that are doing lots of things by themselves and and exploring different ways of putting on a solo performance and what that means. And even though a lot of them sing, it's not only about the singing, it's about them like taking charge and exploring new interfaces for musical expression or new instruments, and that's for me very inspiring to watch.
Camila Later on this episode, we’re going to share with you the work of another Latina— DEBIT. She is a producer and DJ mixing Latino and club sounds. This is another example of the kind of work that Negron is paying attention to—music that combines the traditional with the new. Negron, as you can hear, is not a typical or mainstream artist and does not fall into the expectations of what a LatinX artist should be playing or creating. Negron says that one of her biggest struggles was to separate herself and her work from music like salsa or reggaeton but without forgetting her roots and her island.
Angelica It's a very difficult question, but I would say that when I lived in Puerto Rico I felt a little bombarded by all the popular music la salsa, reggaeton. I was raised in the place where I was born, so I was writing music again a lot to escape from that and I start writing a lot of ambient music, and things that were very contrasting too, it was kind of like music that would take me away from the cacophony that was outside. But when you move from your home, things change, and then you have a—nostalgia place a little bit of a role there. But I think food and music also have the power to bring you closer to places that that are distant physically, so I've been incorporating a little more tropical rhythms. They kind of infuse there somehow, but it just happens very naturally. And I think—all my songs are in Spanish too, because I think in Spanish. So I want to write music in the language I think in. Everything you know, influences what I do. Everything I feel influences the music I write.
Camila And that everything includes hurricane Maria. Last fall, Puerto Rico and many other Caribbean islands were destroyed by two hurricanes that were category five. Life changed for puerto ricans including Negron and her family. The moment was so intense and confusing for Negron that she decided to use her music to express for the first time what and how she was feeling after this devastating natural disaster. She premiered a new song dedicated to her island at the New Latin Wave festival.
Camila What makes Negron’s work very special is the inclusion of both traditional sounds rooted into her own experience and unusual techniques and instruments into her compositions. Could this be the New Latin Wave?
Angelica That's a great question. It's hard to tell when you're inside something to see it from the outside, to know what it is and what it looks like, what it sounds like, what it feels like. But I I definitely feel like there's a lot of really interesting things. Especially like all over Latin America, but in the community here in New York, to have Latinx artists who are doing really interesting things. And a lot of them doing things with electronic music and very different, but with the same kind of spirit, I would say. Yeah like Helado Negro, Ela, Xenia Rubinos, Buscabulla. There’s a lot of people making really cool sounds and exploring what it means to be Latino here. And showing that in many very different ways. So I think yeah, that's—for me it feels like a New Latin Wave because it's very refreshing, and it's it's new and it's reaching also other audiences, which is for me really important too. It's not only exclusive to the Latino Community.
Camila When you say it feels refreshing, refreshing from what?
Angelica I think it's refreshing in the very simple sense of like hearing things that make you smile and that bring joy to you because you haven't heard those sounds before or that combination of sounds. Or someone dressed as a tinsel mammal like Helado has when he's playing, or someone kicking ass in the synthesizers like Ela does. So like yeah, it's things that I've seen other artists explore, but not in those ways, so it's a very new and fresh perspective to my ears.
Camila We’re incredibly grateful that we had the opportunity to have Angelica perform at our festival last year and to sit down with us for this amazing conversation about her work and experiences. She keeps adding more and more cool stuff to this New Latin Wave. She’s currently working on a lip sync opera entitled Chimera for drag queen performers and chamber ensemble and the score for the documentary The Feeling of Being Watched which will screen at Tribeca Film Festival this year. You can also catch her this coming June at the Areté Venue & Gallery for a performance of Pasajero. We’ll be sharing more information about music and cultural events with you on our social media platforms. Please follow us on instagram, twitter, and facebook. Stay with us.
Sokio So what you’re listening to right now is DEBIT. This woman with Mexican roots is a producer, DJ and radio host. She is mixing Latin textures with ambient and club sounds and she’s become an important figure for the Latinx diaspora.
Sokio DEBIT has a deconstructive approach to music; she works with blends of Latino and club beats, her music is dramatic and baroque. As a producer and DJ DEBIT has been called "an impeccable talent" by i-D magazine. She has co-hosted Oraculo with Riobamba at The Lot radio for over a year and performed throughout North & South America with NAAFI, Ghetto Gothik, MIXPAK, ARCA, Jubilee and many others! She remains an influential force in the Mexican experimental, electronica and club scene. Her new album “Animus” is out, and you can find it in Apple Music, Spotify and many other digital stores.
Sokio So Camila, that was DEBIT.
Camila I love it, I absolutely love it. I love it! Let me squeeze more one thing in here. It’s time for el postre, the dessert time. Two more minutes to listen to more extraordinary Latinx art. And now let’s catch up with Melissa Saenz Gordon. She’s been profiling artists from an upcoming exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum on New Latin Wave’s social media. She is a photographer from San Francisco, California who is now here in New York, and has been following the work of many Latinx artists.
Camila Hi Melissa, thanks so much for taking our call! So you’re working on a project right now called Te Aprecio Foto. What is it about?
Melissa So yeah Te Aprecio Foto is just about celebrating kind of neighborhood nuance and a lot of the things that get overlooked in our everyday life. Kind of taking a second to maybe appreciate the things that you gloss over on your way to the train, or on your way to your coffee, and that you may write off as being a nuisance, but really it is what kind of peppers the culture around us.
Camila I know you're super excited about this show at the Brooklyn Museum. Give us a sneak preview of what to expect.
Melissa So about a month ago I saw that the Brooklyn Museum announced that they're gonna showcase this exhibition called Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960—1985. If some people remember, or if you remember, Brooklyn Museum hosted a parallel exhibition called We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965—1985. So it's kind of like a succession of creating a space for women of color in the Art World, because the space needs to be created like very intentionally in order for society to catch up. You need to make sure that it happens. And so this show coming up is really exciting. It's 120 artists many of which have never been showcased in a setting like this before, and some of the artists are very well known. And then it’s an exhibition that is put on by a few organizations in LA, mainly the Hammer Museum, which is the museum at UCLA, and PST, which is Pacific Standard Time. And that is kind of a partnership of art organizations in LA to kind of create a space again for Latino creatives, just create a space for it. So they're hosting a lot of events, and this initiative is funded by the Getty.
Melissa This is the only location on the East Coast that this exhibition is going to be held, and it's very exciting. They added five additional artists from New York, so to make it kind of reflective of where it's at. One of them is Sandra Eleta. She’s born in 1943 in Panama, and she's probably one of the most famous photographers from Panama. Another chica that I just profiled who I'm really excited about is Delphina Bernal, and she was born in the 40s and grew up in Colombia. And she worked with a lot of new technologies, but of course the town she grew up in was very small. And so when she finally moved to New York with her family she was in Queens and the Lower East Side. And she really experimented with like color photocopies and collaged a lot of photocopies. This is technology that we all take for granted, but in the 70s pretty renegade and pretty radical.
Camila Melissa, muchas gracias! Melissa is using the hashtag #NLWMujeresRadicales on Instagram. Go and check out some of the artists who are going to be featured in this exhibition.
Camila This is the end, fin of our first episode. We want to thank Angelica, DEBIT and Melissa for allowing us to chat with them and get closer to their work. But especially, thank you to all of you who are listening right now and later.
Sokio Please follow us on social media and let us know what you think about our very first episode of the New Latin Wave.
Camila Thank you to our editor and producer Amanda Dora Riesman. Music was composed by our very own Sokio, and he's also our post-production nerd. And I am your host, Camilla Montañez. Hasta luego.
Sokio Hasta luego.
The New Latin Wave Podcast is a production of New Latin Wave.