Young, Latin & Proud ✊🏾
Words by Luna Olavarria Gallegos
On November 2, Helado Negro, the South Florida- born, Brooklyn-based artist lead his two mammal tinsel friends onto New York City’s Bowery Ballroom stage. Performing tracks from his newest album, Private Energy as well as older songs, him and the two gentle monsters were accompanied by live string instruments and voice-activated lights that glowed different colors with his delicate voice. The set was calm and shimmery and offered critical space for reflection. Despite having made music for years under various monikers, Helado Negro’s stand out came recently with the release of his Private Energy’s single, “Young Latin and Proud”. The first time I heard the track, I remember feeling moved not only by the message— one I didn’t even know I needed— but also by the familiarity of his voice. This was for me.
It’s no secret that Latinidad is trending, not only through trivial images, but music and art. Latinx genres are being stolen and re-branded by white artists, music industry executives, managers, representatives and journalists looking to make a profit off a powerful legacy of art as resistance and existence. This practice not only continues cycles of oppression, but flattens an entire continent and diaspora into a word. La Liga is a Latinx platform, yet all of us have different relationships to mestizaje, tongues and even culture.
A few days before his show in New York City, La Liga had a chance to talk to Helado Negro as he made his way to Indianapolis from Cincinnati on the last leg of his tour. I was most interested to know about what he thinks of being called a “Latino artist.” He was sincere in his answer, telling me it’s the thing he thinks about the most— a driving force in what he makes. “I’m conscious of utilizing a tool that’s so strong which is that culture. t’s not that it’s easy to use it but it’s easy to utilize it as a way of commerce without being too thoughtful. I'm trying to be very delicate with it in a way so that everybody sees how delicate it can be and it’s not something you can just serve up and chop up. We have to be precious with it.”
Helado Negro’s music is real in that it rejects the destruction of culture through commercialization. This recognition gets at the tokenization Latinx artists feel and are forced to think through. His thoughts on this were also telling of this pain we feel: “That’s a precarious thing because it’s there and it’s hard to decipher who is wanting what out of you, and sometimes you don’t know all the intentions.”
During a time of so much pain for Latinx people, this legacy of art is what will keep us floating. His message of being proud stays with me—yes, but thinking through the delicacy in what we create is what is perhaps most important. Last week, we were young, Latin and proud, doing the work to keep ourselves alive. Today, as the seams of the country split open to expose itself of all its violence and hatred, we are still here— still creating. It’s what we’ve always done.
Photos by Stephanie Orentas