There has not been an act that has repped Miami’s underground scene to the level the neon-hued, electro-snappy duo Afrobeta seem poised to reach. Popping onto an landscape that relishes uptight hipster acts, and coming from a hometown that is known more for launching urban and Latin music than indie, Afrobeta is making a name for themselves by forging, and following, their own path… one bathed in light of their unique, synthesized-DayGlo-colored glory.
Afrobeta is made up of two distinct halves. The Afro: producer and instrumentalist Tony Smurphio—former keyboardist of tropical funk band Suenalo Sound System. Smurphio had been playing keyboards on tour with Pitbull when he dropped the decent paying gig to focus on Afrobeta. The Enthusiasm: very colorful poet and performance artist Cuci Amador. She brings aggressive lyrics, a theatrical stage presence and a brash vocal style that reminds me of a Latin cousin to the vocal demeanors of MCs like Bunny and Uffie.
Cuci’s break came in 2007, when through a mutual friend, she connected with Calle 13, one of the most acclaimed and highest-selling reggaeton acts to date. Cuci had written a crossover ode to Miami bass and Latin freestyle music of the ‘80s titled “Electro Movimiento.”
“I got a call like at Midnight one night and they’re like come down to Circle House Studios and freestyle,’ Cuci recalls of the track that jumpstarted her music career.
“Electro Movimiento” was the second single on Calle 13’s Grammy-winning album Los de Atrás Vienen Conmigo. Cuci’s smooth, clubby vocals, coupled with the attitude-laden rap at the end of the track laid the foundation for the manic-electric persona she’d cultivate with AfroBeta.
“In Miami you have to give people a good reason to come out again and again to see you perform. People have fun at our shows. You never see the same twice,” Cuci explains about rising out of the Magic City underground scene.
You gotta express a style that says something about your art. And I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing local designers to come up with stuff that definitely draws your eyes to what we’re doing on stage.
Miami is as musically fickle as a town can be. I should know. I grew up there. For the record: I know Smurphio from when he was DJing in the old Florida rave scene, and Cuci, who back in high school was an aspiring actress with a huge perma-grin and a personality that walked about ten feet in front of her. Together, the second-generation Cuban-American musicians have sifted through three years of late-night binges on pastelitos de guava and funky beats to gather a wave of local support through what started as weekly shows at Design District warehouses and South Beach lounges and has hurled them onto stages all over the world.
“Being who we are and coming from where we come from there’s going to be the strong dance component. We come from the clubs. In Miami you have to make people move,” Smurphio explains. “But the thing is we have a singer-songwriter mentality. We actually write our songs acoustically, on guitar and then build them electronically.”
Aside from a crisp, clean synth, breaky basslines and Giorgio Moroder-ish melodies, Afrobeta is getting noticed as much for the style and personality of their stage presence as they are for their sound. While Smurphio helms the music production, Cuci takes the lead on developing the duo’s bold CGI look, it being something Smurphio had never put much thought into before co-founding this act.
“That’s all Cuci. I come from a jam band world. I’d be comfortable up there in my jeans and T-shirt,” Smurphio admits.
“Come on, you know you like it,” Cuci responds, like the little sister who knows how to get what she wants.
“Yeah, absolutely, it’s something very unique you bring to this. And I’m glad you do, because coming from a jam band no one cared about what we were wearing on stage,” Smurphio adds. “I come from the music industry, but Cuci has a theatre background, so she brings that to the table whenever we’re on stage.”
“You gotta express a style that says something about your art. And I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing local designers to come up with stuff that definitely draws your eyes to what we’re doing on stage,” Cuci says about her fiercely futuristic outfits.
Exchanges like that are a telling part of their ying-yang dynamic. Especially when it goes down in a Spanish-tinged Miami accent all too familiar to my ears. Cuci’s playful back and forth with Smurphio is often paralleled by the way his syncopated beats dare her vocals to keep up. Her lyrics not only bounce along the top of his music like a skipping stone with lyrics that counter, “You can’t tell me to behave, wasn’t raised to be your slave.” If you’re feeling bratty, your library needs Afrobeta.
This month Afrobeta drops their debut full-length album, Under the Streets (Do IT Records). The release coincides with an extensive international tour. In the past year the duo have performed at the 40th Anniversary Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, the 12th annual Ultra Music Festival, Burning Man, Ultra Brazil and Space Ibiza. From this August through September, they will be one of the featured acts on the Identity Tour, a road to Ultra with a show in more than 20 cities across North America where they’ll share the bill with the likes of Steve Aoki, DJ Shadow, Kaskade, The Crystal Method and The Disco Biscuits.
Working with on the visual component of their stage show at last year’s Ultra Music Festival ultimately brought them together with the Dutch audio-visual maven, Ruben von Leer, who directed their video for the first single off the album, “Play House.” The video was shot in Amsterdam, and could be visually compared to Tron.
08/12 NOBLESVILLE, IN Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
08/13 PITTSBURGH, PA First Niagara Pavilion
08/14 HOLMDEL, NJ PNC Bank Arts Center
08/16 CHARLOTTE, NC Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
08/18 WASHINGTON, DC Jiffy Lube Live
08/19 PHILADELPHIA, PA Susquehanna Bank Center
08/20 BOSTON, MA Comcast Center for the Performing Arts
08/21 NEW YORK, NY Nikon at Jones Beach Theater
08/23 ATLANTA, GA Lakewood Amphitheatre
08/24 TAMPA, FL 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre
08/25 MIAMI, FL Bayfront Park Amphitheatre
08/27 HOUSTON, TX Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
08/28 DALLAS, TX Gexa Energy Pavilion
08/30 ALBUQUERQUE, NM The Pavilion
09/02 SAN DIEGO, CA Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre
09/03 SAN FRANCISCO, CA Shoreline Amphitheatre
09/04 IRVINE MEADOWS, CA Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
09/05 LAS VEGAS, NV Strip Lot
09/10 SEATTLE, WA The Gorge Amphitheatre