By David Rolland
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In the sparkly, off-kilter world of Miami electro-pop duo Afrobeta, there's a new party anthem always bubbling just under the surface. Even if it's outside official studio hours, and even if half the group is sleeping, and even if the song started as a half-joke.
That was the case for the group's latest live staple, a ditty that frontwoman Christy "Cuci" Amador and Tony "Smurphio" Laurencio have dubbed "Birthday Celebration." The song began as an off-the-cuff tune that Amador sang for her mother's most recent birthday. Then, when Amador's own b-day came around, she got a musical surprise from Laurencio.
"The song was something really dumb and funny," she recalls. "But Tony came into the room at midnight and woke me up to the song. He had finished a whole other verse to it and developed and produced it."
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In the Afrobeta universe, the lines between work, play, and personal life seem blurred to almost nonexistence. Amador and Laurencio live together, make music all day and night together, and now tour the world together, sharing stages with leading electronic music legends from San Francisco to Ibiza.
Five and a half years ago, though, the two were still strangers. Laurencio was already a popular figure on the Miami scene, both as a member of the fiercely beloved Spanish fusion act Suenalo and as a studio and touring musician for artists such as Pitbull. But Amador was a friend of a friend, whose only band experience had been a short stint with the Miami live electro group organicArma. An almost-starstruck Suenalo fan, she had to work up the nerve to give Laurencio a demo.
Since then, the other acts gradually fell away. Laurencio even turned down an offer to become a full-time member of Pitbull's live band to stick with Afrobeta. That laser focus, as well as steady gigging around Miami and a residency at Miami Beach hangout Jazid, paid off. The group's local draw and spark-plug performances led to a deal with Do It Music Group, a label and management house run by Charlie and Russell Faibisch, cofounders of Ultra Music Festival.
That helped Afrobeta score its first slot at the festival in 2010. But its own merits helped the duo graduate to bigger stages at the 2011 edition, closing out Sunday night on the fest's massive live stage. Last summer, the pair also completed the full run of the Identity Festival tour, the nation's first traveling all-electronic music festival. (Weather issues forced the postponement and then cancellation of the planned Miami stop.)
And now Afrobeta is planning a new EP, due out this spring. The final track list is up in the air. But Amador and Laurencio say the record will be as stylistically diverse as their 2011 full-length, Under the Streets. Criticism of that album concentrated on the songs' unpredictability. But Laurencio and Amador saw it as a strength.
"We'd rather sound different on every song than have 14 songs with the beat sounding the same. I guess it kind of confuses the pop crowd, who say, 'What is this band? Are they electronic or what?'" Laurencio says. "But we don't care. Every song is different. The common flavor is that we can play all these songs on acoustic instruments. It's all about the songwriting for us."
The result is that besides the party-ready "Birthday Celebration," top contenders for the EP include an "adult contemporary dubstep" number and the cheekily titled IDM-driven ballad "Even When I Hate You I Still Love You." But until the final selections are made, the two continue to work — and play — tirelessly to get it done.
"It's challenging, but we have to remember why we're doing this music together. Technically, Tony doesn't need me to do the music. He could go play as Tony Smurphio by himself," Amador says. "I could do my own little beats on my computer and write my own thing and not have to argue with him."
"But the common goal is the same for both of us," Laurencio quickly adds. "Getting to that common goal, there may be a couple bumps, but the overall result is worth keeping the unity."