By Jhoni Jackson
South Florida native Roberto Lange, better known as Helado Negro, has lent a hand to various projects, like mixing Bear in Heaven’s Beast Rest Forth Mouth and producing Prefuse 73’s Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian. But generally, his solo work over the past five years has been in Spanish—until now. On Invisible Life, his third LP, Lange sings in English.
“I wasn’t against singing in English, I just felt like every time I tried I was trying too hard to make it happen,” he says. “And I feel like all good things happen without any kind of resistance.”
Still, the bulk of the meticulously layered, luminescent songs on the album are guided by Lange’s trademark Spanish coos. And, of course, that crucial tinge of tropical that makes Helado Negro’s sound what it is remains entirely intact. It’s just his nature.
“I grew up in [a] household [where] everyone spoke Spanish,” Lange explains. “The way I grew up, the people that I was surrounded by…my father was very involved in the Ecuadorian community. We were always surrounded by Ecuadorians and or Latin Americans all the time. My family, friends were always sons or daughters of Ecuadorians or Latin American immigrants, so that’s what I am.”
Until Lange was 18, he says, two months of every summer were spent in Ecuador. His family visited around Christmas, too.
“Growing up in that environment, my parents never had a sense of assimilation. No one was like, ‘Oh, I have to be more American.’ There was always a sense of pride about our culture and who we are,” Lange says.
For non-Spanish speakers who’ve simply been basking in Helado Negro’s atmosphere without understanding the words, analyzing his English lyrics will spark a snowball effect. “Dance Ghost” and “Catastrophe” are rife with imagery that feels alive and illuminated. Lange can be a bit more straightforward lyrically, but against the spine of the music it all feels poetic. He’s been doing that all along in Spanish, and now you’ll likely want to go back and decipher it for yourself.
Helado Negro plays 529 on Thursday, Feb. 28, with Samadha and Adron.