There will be a point this coming Thursday night when Helado Negro, the musical alter ego of Roberto Carlos Lange, will kick up a wave of high-pitched sounds off his synthesizer and lead the crowd at the Regent Theater into a chorus about being “young, Latin and proud.” The song, which turns 2 years old this summer, continues to serve as an anthem for a generation of Latinos growing up in Trump’s America, a development Lange never expected.
“Absolutely, it caught me by surprise,” the multitalented Lange admits over the phone. “The song was made for me and was more of an intimate song. We had a few shows and, kind of the way the world works in trying to get people to know that you have a new show coming up, we thought it would be a good idea to release a new song, and I thought, ‘Oh, this would be a great song for summertime.’”
Lange released “Young, Latin and Proud” just as candidate Trump was calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. “A lot of people have commented to me that they found the song to be somewhat of a reinforcement of an anti-Trump idea,” he says. But he insists the song wasn't intended as a response to Trump: “It was just music that I was making that I’ve always made since day one, since the first record. A lot of my music has been covering the same themes. People pick up on it later in time.”
Lange has written other songs that serve as introspective affirmations of Latino identity. He wrote a love song to his high melanin count on “It’s My Brown Skin,” on which he sings, “My brown is the shade that’s just for me,” and reminds his listeners of color, “It's your brown skin, it will keep you safe.”
Both “Young, Latin and Proud” and “It’s My Brown Skin” are off Lange’s latest album, Private Energy, which he rereleased in an expanded version this year, along with a vinyl edition of the album for the first time. The rerelease features remastered versions of his songs as well as remixes and new artwork. Private Energy contains a number of songs in Spanish, as all of Helado Negro's albums have since his 2009 debut, Awe Owe.
Lange was born in South Florida in 1980 to parents originally from Ecuador. He absorbed plenty of artistic, musical and cultural influences from the region along with the heat and humidity. He graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2003, then moved to Brooklyn three years later, where he began creating his unique style of music as Helado Negro, blending electronic, tropical and indie in two languages.
Lange also recently released a new single via Adult Swim titled “Come Be Me.” The track features a thumping bass line with an aquatic feel to it that bounces along under synths and a steel drum or two. It’s another intimate song that is certain to resonate in a larger way with his audience.
No other Helado Negro song, however, has come close to the impact of “Young, Latin and Proud,” which has become a popular T-shirt as well. Lange remains humble to a fault about both the song’s and the shirt’s impact in modern culture as well as their creation.
“All these things end up being things made out of either passion or necessity,” he explains. “The song was made out of love for what I do, and it was an inspiration that was based on my own life. The necessity part was, ‘Oh, I should make T-shirts for a tour.’ I wasn’t sure how many people were going to buy them. I don’t have some kind of focus group somewhere, so you just make T-shirts for a tour — and I sold out of all of them my first few shows!
“Obviously, some light bulbs go off and you make more. There isn’t a huge amount of financial gain in doing it. It’s just nice to have it be something that’s consistent and have it on the road for a little cash for gas and food.”
Helado Negro performs at the Regent Theatre on Thursday, Aug. 17, with Jesse Baez and Nancy Sanchez. Tickets and more info.