A few years ago, L.A.-based producer and vocalist Rafi El met up with a Peruvian shaman, with whom he tried ayahuasca for the first time. While under the influence of the psychedelic drug, the shaman's music triggered some early childhood memories in Rafi - folk music from the Andes Mountains his Argentine parents listened to.
Rafi took those native folk sounds, incorporated electronic music, and today releases his full-length debut Ay De Mi.
Born to Argentine parents in Israel and raised speaking both Spanish and Hebrew, Rafi grew up in Van Nuys, though he says his upbringing was a bit sheltered. When he heard N.W.A. for the first time, for example, he didn't know where Compton was. "I did a search for Compton, and the first thing I found was a city in Michigan. "That's where I thought N.W.A. was from," he says.
He now has a master's degree in linguistics and learned several more tongues while working for a language software company in L.A. He traveled to Beijing to teach English, and ended up living with a member of the band Underground Baby - a pioneering Chinese punk-rock band from the 90's. Today, he's politically active, and today will be protesting unlabeled GMOs at the Monsanto headquarters in St. Louis.
Electronic music has proven useful to Rafi; L.A.'s small but growing bass scene, organically works toward uniting the city's cultures, as electronically infusing any traditional music - Latin, Armenian, African, or Indian - is a snap. Rafi compares electronic music to what rock and roll in the '60s and '70s. "People in Africa heard it and made afropop, Latinos made rock en Español. It's the current version of that," he says.
Ay De Mi comes via the forward-thinking New York label Dutty Artz, home to global bass artists like Geko Jones, Chief Boima, and DJ Rupture.
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To Rafi, there's power in being multilingual. "It's the mirror of our culture. We live in language."
Rafi El performs at La Cita on Thursday, January 30.