HELADO NEGRO with ULADAT at the Music Gallery (197 John), Friday (April 5), 8 pm. $10-$20. MG, SS. See listing.
As Helado Negro, Roberto Carlos Lange makes music that's tranquil, tropical and silky smooth, electronic pop as suited to the dance floor as it is to a late-night headphone zone-out. He also sings mostly in Spanish.
Lange considers the words secondary to his dreamy grooves, but many critics latch onto his lyrics. Helado Negro's sound is often categorized as "alt-Latino" or the ever-derided catch-all "world music," but he has a simpler term for it: pop.
"People can interpret it however they want to," says the afro'ed singer, on a break at home in Brooklyn before heading back out on tour. "It's not like I have some manifesto or political agenda that outlines what kind of music I make. Whatever you're hearing, you're probably hearing it better than I am."
Lange's music is as informed by the hip-hop and bass music of his Miami upbringing as by the sound of his mother tongue. (He's the son of Ecuadorian immigrants.) For his English-speaking audience the lyrics are purely textural, but when he plays in Spanish-speaking countries people often ask why he doesn't sing in English.
After all, many contemporary Latin pop bands adopt English to appeal to a wider audience, and the genre is gaining in popularity across the world. This might explain why Helado Negro is represented in Mexico by Canadian indie mega-label Arts & Crafts, which operates a branch there.
Helado Negro's just-released third album, Invisible Life (Asthmatic Kitty), actually does feature some English lyrics, but Lange says this wasn't any sort of premeditated attempt to attract a bigger audience.
"If only I had that kind of sensibility, maybe I'd be more stable economically," he laughs. "I just kind of start writing, and whatever comes out comes out. Some of the words this time happened to be in English."
Invisible Life includes a few high-profile collaborators (at least to indie listeners) like Devendra Banhart and Mouse on Mars' Jan St. Werner. But live, Helado Negro is just Lange with his drum machine, synthesizer, laptop and microphone. He says he can't afford to bring other players on the road, but the approach also fits the nature of the project; Lange has produced for Prefuse 73 and collaborated with Julianna Barwick, but Helado Negro is entirely his.
"I definitely give everything I have when I'm contributing to a project that isn't mine, but it's within someone else's parameters. With Helado Negro it's the reverse. [The other musicians] are all filtering through me."