We travel in circles. Our lives move in cycles. Our dreams spin us around. This is something that artist Rafi El understands intuitively. Through his life and music, he’s been constantly circling back to the source of his creativity, the mountains of South America – long a source of cultural wealth and shamanic power. Raised by parents from Argentina’s historical Jewish communities, Rafi was born in Israel and grew up in Los Angeles, where he currently lives. His earliest days were steeped in the sounds and cultures of three continents.
Rafi El’s music gained form in L.A.’s unique pan- Latino communities, also drawing on the West Coast beat scene (from Flying Lotus’ psychedelic breaks to the synthy exuberance of hyphy rap). But it was the sound of an Ayahuasca Shaman playing songs on a charango that brought him spinning back to the music of the Andes, the music that borders his parents’ old home in Argentina. As Rafi El says, “There’s something about the chord changes in Andean music — the way it’s constantly shifting between major and minor. It’s really deep and affecting.” Zeroing in on this musical inspiration, he moved towards the music of his ancestral roots, and incorporating these influences into the music he was making in Los Angeles’ burning-hot Indie- Tropical nights. There, Rafi El paired his distinctive voice with songwriting whose cheerfulness played with Latin mood shifts, wrapping it around a unique production style where hard-driving electronic beats share space with acoustic, folkloric instruments.
Rafi El’s Spanish-language remake of Dr. Dre’s “What’s the Difference”, entitled “La Diferencia”, dropped in early 2013 and reimagined the Cali classic as a bilingual border-crossing anthem, complete with a splash of Mexican Banda brass. With his new EP, Tra Ba, Rafi El invited three artists to remix the single off his upcoming Fall 2013 full- length album. L.A. roots Caribbean band Buyepongo brings an organically-crafted cover featuring the Afro-Latin drumming traditions that have inspired them, integrating a cumbia shuffle with funky horns. Brooklyn-based psychedelic electronic music producer Rioux circles the music back to its African roots with the filtered kalimba (thumb piano) lines of his buzzed- out melodic remix. Dutty Artz label-mate Atropolis, a stalwart of New York’s tropical bass scene, field-tested his propulsive Tra Ba version at underground Brooklyn parties.
Tra Ba brings Rafi El’s deft Spanish lyricism and songwriting together with a beat that combines South American folk traditions and contemporary dancefloor rhythms, culminating in a hook that celebrates the joys of communal fiesta celebration after a week of workplace drudgery. He raps and sings bilingually, weaving between Spanish and English, telling an immigrant’s tale of searching for connection in a fragmented city, and finding release in the delirious dance… It’s the sound of Los Angeles today.
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