Afrobeta Talk Piano Lessons, MTV in the '80s, and Being College Hippies
Man, the last time we hung out with local new wave-y freestyle faves Afrobeta was way back in June at Grand Central.
So after almost five months spent zigzagging between the recording studio and big-ticket gigs like Glastonbury, Burning Man, and Space Ibiza, this Saturday's Hollerween party at the Electric Pickle is basically a homecoming bash for Beta bandmates Cuci Amador and Tony Smurphio.
To herald the twosome's return, we hooked up by phone for a conversation about being kids, falling for pop, learning the synth, dancing with Bobby Brown, and going organic.
New Times: Did you two take piano lessons as kids?
Tony: I was a piano student from age four to nine.
Cuci: I was a piano student for three years, probably, from like seven to ten.
So what happened? You quit?
Cuci: I got into dance. I went to a performing arts elementary school that didn't have sports, so I started doing dance and stuff like that. I was always involved with a bunch of after-school artsy stuff.
And Tony ... What's your story?
Tony: I got more into popular music. You know, MTV was becoming very popular. Yeah, I'm that old. [Laughs] At nine or ten, I realized, "I don't wanna be playing music that's 200 years old. I wanna play music that's three months old." I got more into synthesizers.
What were some of your favorite bands back in the day?
Tony: Van Halen, Rush, Led Zepplin, and then pretty much anything on MTV. You know, all that mid-'80s stuff like Michael Jackson, the Cars, Prince.
Do you remember your first synth?
Tony: I got my first synthesizer when I was 14 and it was a Korg DW-8000. My parents got it for me because I had this talent competition for my high school key club. We actually won State. And I had rented it. But we needed to go to Nationals, so my parents just bought it for me.
What were you playing at these talent competitions?
Tony: "This Is the Time" by Billy Joel.
When did you make your return to music after ditching piano lessons, Cuci?
Cuci: I feel like music was always a big part of my life because I loved dancing. But I guess officially, in the sense of performance, I went to college and everybody has that friend who plays guitar and kind of jams with you. So I would sing informally with friends at parties and stuff. Then I auditioned for a world music ensemble at FSU where I went to college. And that's when I started singing in public.
When and how did you two finally meet?
Cuci: We met through mutual friends. But I approached Tony at a Suenalo show after their set was up. And I was like, "Wow! You're awesome!" From there, Tony was hosting an open mike at Transit Lounge and I started going out there, freestyling and improvising. And we just became friends.
How long did you know each other before forming Afrobeta?
Tony: About eight months.
Did you know right away that you'd collaborate?
Cuci: We had no idea.
Tony: Not really. But I always thought about it. I come from a background of playing with large bands. So I thought to myself, "Man, with this girl ... It could just be her and me, and we could make money around town, playing gigs 'cause it's just the two of us."
Cuci: Right. But ultimately, being friends and sharing music, we never thought that we'd collaborate musically. It was never the plan until I wrote lyrics that I brought to him and he considered promising. He developed it into a song. And that was kind of the beginning.
So why did you first start Afrobeta?
Tony: For me, it was really an outlet to play during the week and make money because it was just the two of us. I was like, "I don't need a drummer or a bass player. And she's so entertaining that she captivates people just standing up there."
Cuci: At the time, I wasn't living solely off music like Tony was. So I wasn't thinking, "Oh, man. I need to make a hundred extra bucks." That wasn't the outlet for me, personally. I was actually playing in another band [OrganicArma] at the time, but I didn't think it was going to work out. So [Afrobeta] was an outlet to be able to write songs, period. I had never written songs before and I'd found an amazing friend who wanted to collaborate with me.
The Afrobeta sound is definitively Miami. What are the essentials that go into that mix?
Cuci: I think our influences are pretty individual. I'm a fan of certain pop music that I know Tony wasn't necessarily influenced by. Like when I was growing up and going to summer camp, I was a huge fan of Bobby Brown and all the fun stuff.
Tony: She's a freestyler!
Cuci: Yeah. I loved all the freestyle stuff and the things that were really fun to dance to. But my mom had a ton of records, so I was a huge Beatles and Led Zepplin and Santana fan. And when Tony and I started to share those influences, they were the same. Of course, there's the rave stuff, too.
Tony: Oh, yeah. The '90s were all about the techno for me.
Cuci: For some reason, "Spring Love" was a summer favorite of mine. But I feel like that doesn't speak to everything completely because I was a huge Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins fan. And I loved rock in the early '90s. I think freestyle is just becoming a natural comparison because our music is poppy and it has this high energy. And since we're from Miami, it's easy to say, "Oh my god! Freestyle!"
Tony: I was definitely more into the classic rock in the '80s. And I liked the grunge a little in the '90s. But then it was all about the electronic music. I got into jam bands also in the mid-'90s, like Phish.
Cuci: I love organic music. I gotta say I was a college hippie for sure, dude.
Tony: And somehow we put all those influences together and it would just come out in the music.
Afrobeta with Holy Ghost! and Depressed Buttons as well as Laura of Miami, DJ Bill Kelly, DJ Dennis Sebayan, Hottpants, Tomas of Aquabooty, and William Renuart. Saturday, October 30. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The party starts at 10 p.m. and tickets cost $15 in advance via wantickets.com. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.
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