III Points Festival

III Points Will Be a Homecoming for South Florida Native Helado Negro

The weekend of October 7 looms large for Roberto Carlos Lange, better known onstage as Helado Negro. On top of dropping his latest LP and coming off a string of tour dates opening for Sufjan Stevens, the singer-songwriter will also perform at III Points, the Wynwood music festival famous for mingling triple-A acts with local talent.

At the fest, Helado Negro will be neither a headliner nor an up-and-comer nor, technically, a local, but something distinct: the South Florida-bred artist will have a homecoming moment.

“I don’t play Miami that often,” he says. “It’s really the show that I’m sure a lot of people haven’t seen.”

That show will not only feature stagecraft and choreography developed during a residency at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, but a performer uniquely influenced by an upbringing surrounded by music. Though he now lives in Brooklyn, Lange was born in Lauderhill to Ecuadorean immigrant parents, Lange spent much of his youth in the '80s and '90s in the musical melting pot of South Florida’s blend of ethnicities and nationalities. At family gatherings, he would hear salsa, merengue, and other varieties of Latin dance and pop, while Miami’s alternative nightlife exposed him to jungle, ragga, and other types of experimental electronica.

“Late nights, there would be Italo disco on the radio,” he recalls. “I remember there was a certain time, I think it was the mid-'90s, where Power 96 would just play trance music.”

One can hear the results of this eclectic environment on the new album, Private Energy. Supplementing his deep, soothing voice with a variety of electronic effects and acoustic instrumentation, the musician defies genre conventions while fashioning a warm, inviting space. His songs are reassuring and comfortable, yet mysterious and fluid, a direct and intentional contrast to the social climate in which it was made. 
“I wrote the whole album in November, December 2014,” Lange remembers. “At the time, Michael Brown had been shot earlier that summer. I got home, none of the police officers had been indicted, and I feel like that was what led to a lot of things that we’ve been seeing this past year, in terms of violence and frustration. It made me think a lot about myself and the things I’ve wanted to encourage through music.”

Such introspection resulted in the dreamy LP, while the disappointments of the outside world gave birth to its centerpiece, the gently political “Young, Latin and Proud.” Unintentionally released around the same time as Donald Trump’s initial campaign announcement, in which the Republican candidate for president made vicious statements against Mexicans and immigrants, Lange wrote the song as a message of solidarity and reassurance to young Latin-Americans with conflicted identities and fear for the future. Specifically, he tried to speak to a young, confused version of himself.

“I was just trying to think of myself as a young child — a younger version of me — and not really having a lot of things formed in my mind,” he says of the song. “It’s not so much like a rally protest, it’s more like a meditation, like: take time for yourself, think about what’s going on, and make up your own mind. Don’t lose yourself.”

Hopefully, Lange's message of positivity and self-assurance will reach sympathetic ears at home in Miami, especially considering the boldest part of his act: singing and writing in both English and Spanish. It’s an uncommon trait in both pop and indie to go bilingual, and while the artist admits it may not be the most commercially healthy decision to sing in a language much of his predominantly-English audience can’t understand, he doesn’t regret it in the slightest.

“It makes it hard,” he explained. “But in the longer perspective of what I do and my own work and what I’ve grown into, I’m happy that it’s been what it is. It was never like a marketing decision, it’s always been a natural thing.”

Helado Negro at III Points. 4 p.m. Sunday, October 9, on the Mind Melt Stage at Mana Wynwood, 318 NW 23rd St., Miami; 305-573-0371; manawynwood.com. Tickets cost $99 to $299 via iiipoints.com.
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Douglas Markowitz is a former music and arts editorial intern for Miami New Times. Born and raised in South Florida, he studied at Sophia University in Tokyo before earning a bachelor's in communications from University of North Florida. He writes freelance about music, art, film, and other subjects.