I spent much of the day yesterday listening to Helado Negro's record from this year, Private Energy. He's a new artist to me, an Ecuadorian-American singer-songwriter, toying with lo-fi electronica and singing alternately in Spanish and English or else not singing at all on some tracks. The album seems like an oasis of calm and reflection in a world gone mad and going ever madder.
Occasionally Negro pumps up the beats, elsewhere things are not altogether dissimilar in style and intention to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, (though it doesn't actually sound like it, just feels like it), but throughout the record is consistently melodic, thoughtful and soulful though oddly sometimes his vocals, (when singing in English at least), resemble Marc Bolan of all people, at least to my ears.
It's My Brown Skin, resonates particularly deeply and looks set to lodge itself as one of my favourite songs of the year. It's about pride, resolution and quiet defiance in a year when the powers that be seem set on turning us one against the other, certainly in the UK and the US but I suspect elsewhere too. I'll leave Negro to speak for himself about the thought processes behind the album from an interview with the Observer.com website.
'Touring the U.S. in 2014 and interfacing with so many people along the way affected me deeply. There was so much happening, or beginning to happen, in terms of the turmoil that we're experiencing with racial strife and violence in the U.S. It started to come to a head when I was on the road, especially when those responsible for Michael Brown's death weren't indicted. That was a milestone in terms of sparking conversations about racism and identity and society.
We saw the beginning of movements like Black Lives Matter and other people coming together to address problems, to start conversations. We all became more aware, but I also became aware that it's hard for a lot of people to process so much tragedy happening at once.
That's the feeling I started to have with this record. I was trying to figure out a way to process it all and contribute without feeling I'm just going through the motions. I don't mean that people who protest are going with the motions, but there's a point where you have to be conscious of what you're doing.
....I just felt bad inside. You're angry, you're sad, you need to figure out a way to resolve it. These are human things to do, but it's difficult to fully process when tragic events are happening back to back to back. For me Private Energy is about stepping back and taking in what you can and backing away from the rest, because you can't deal with it all at the same time.
That's unfortunate but it's the truth. This record is about preserving that energy and using it at the right time.With the music and the topical matter here. I tried to tap into how I'd feel and how I'd talk to myself if I was a younger me, how to deal with it. Because I think, when you're a lot younger and you're seeing all this stuff, it's harder to process.''