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Helado Negro On 'How You Smile'

HELADO NEGRO: Hola. Hello. I'm Helado Negro, and that means black ice cream in Spanish. It's a name that doesn't mean anything. It's a flavor that can be anything. You really don't know what to expect.


HELADO NEGRO: (Singing in Spanish).

And I know that's what I've always wanted with my music and the work that I do. I don't expect people to feel or know something or anticipate anything. Like, I just want people to be open to receive a lot.


The man behind Helado Negro is Roberto Carlos Lange. Lange's family is from Ecuador. They first moved to New York and later settled in South Florida. His mom worked as a secretary and his dad as a sheet metal worker. For Lange, that meant the day started before dawn.

HELADO NEGRO: I know this sounds very dramatic when I'm going to say this, but it's true. I used to have to get up at, like, 4 in the morning every day and go to work with him before school. And then one of the people that worked with my dad usually dropped me off.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But his parents supported his music. In high school, Lange had began using non-traditional ways to create sounds, using his computer, drums and even a weird karaoke machine. He continued to make music all through college, attending Savannah College of Art and Design. Over the past 10 years, Lange has released multiple albums. But his latest one "This Is How You Smile" has been praised as his most powerful work to date.


HELADO NEGRO: (Singing) I'll sing you this part when we go to sleep. Winter will be gone tomorrow just lay inside your dream.

The title was inspired by a line from a Jamaica Kincaid poem called "Girl." And it's from a mother speaking to a daughter about living as a person of color in this new place - they're from Antigua - and being immigrants. And the piece itself is a list of instructions. This is how you smile to someone you like. This is how you smile to someone you don't like. This is how you smile to someone you like completely, you know? This is how you act around certain people. The poem is just this list, and it's beautiful. She can make complex things feel so uncomplicated in her art. And that's what resonated with me the most in what I was striving for with this record.


HELADO NEGRO: (Singing) Left out an ocean on top - blue tie, and orange won't let go. Let me be. Please won't please.

One of the songs I wrote on this album - it's called "Please Won't Please." And one of the lyrics is lifelong history shows that brown won't go. Brown just glows.


HELADO NEGRO: (Singing) Lifelong history shows that brown won't go. Brown just glows.

It's continuing a long thread that I've always had within the work that I've done as Helado Negro, which - starting from the first record that I released in 2009 called "Awe Owe" - that I'm always reassuring myself that, like, no matter far I feel like I'm being pushed down or being held down, even if it seems like it's not that big of a deal, it's a good reminder for me to know that even a glow is kind of a good way to lead yourself through something.

I really was, like, dealing with a lot of things - and find the best way to articulate them. And I was able to do that through these songs, and I was crying. You know, I weeped. I was definitely crying while writing and playing.


HELADO NEGRO: (Singing) Fading true, I met you. Walk my mind.

After I finished it, there was a relief. It made me feel exhausted because, I think, with anyone who makes a record, you go crazy. You're listening to so much. And you just - you kind of start losing where it needs to go. And I was able to straddle the - this kind of unseen force and find it. And when I did, there was joy in it. I felt like this was the best record I ever made so far.


HELADO NEGRO: (Singing) In my mind, all the time.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Helado Negro - his latest album is "This Is How You Smile."


HELADO NEGRO: (Singing) In my hands every day... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.