Spending the Night With Afrobeta
by BILL Kearney
Miami’s own indie/dance duo have had quite a year, with gigs at Glastonbury Festival, Burning Man and Ultra, and the release of their first full-length album, Under the Streets.
2 PM: Home
I walk into Afrobeta’s apartment just north of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts as they rehearse for a live show later that night at The Florida Room. Tony Laurencio (aka Smurphio) and Cuci Amador’s home is rigged with a Star Trek-like control panel of equalizers, keyboards, laptops and a microphone. (This is where they recorded their forthcoming LP, Under the Streets.) Tony sets down a throbbing, base-heavy version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” somehow making it more danceable, and Cuci swoops through the lyrics. “I’m not sure I can pull this song off,” she says when they stop to make adjustments. Most of the songwriting on the new album was done on a cuatro (a kind of Latin mandolin). “We walk the dogs and we play songs,” says Tony, “then come home and put down beats on the computer.” As for lyrics: “A lot of stuff comes out in dreams,” says Cuci.
4 PM: Yiya's Gourmet Cuban Bakery and Café
As Tony hangs with spoken-word artist Benjamin Shahoulian (who partners on lyrics occasionally), Cuci gets into a gabfest with café copartner Mariana Hawayek about being a Cuban who was born in Puerto Rico. Eventually talk turns to musical taste. Tony’s ranges from Eddie Van Halen to offbeat indie acts like the Tune-Yards and Little Dragon—hence Afrobeta’s eclectic sound. After Cuban coffees, Tony’s off to prep gear for the show, and Cuci and I head to Hollywood to pick out her outfit.
5:30 PM: Art of Shade
Stepping into Art of Shade is like walking into a movie stylist’s closet: Unlikely material (men’s tuxedo shirts, elastic bands) is repurposed into sci-fi-like haute couture. Cuci and designer Kayce Armstrong share a hug. Before long Cuci’s trying on outfits: a white Fifth Element-like cage dress, a Jetsons-ish romper, a black Tinker Bell/vampire number. She and styling assistant Bobby Ray sing Mexican diva Gloria Trevi’s “Pelo Suelto” as he alters one of the ensembles. They settle on the black dress, and we make our way back to Miami.
Midnight: The Florida Room
As overly serious young girls cut rough paths through the crowd, the DJ spins a mashup of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and Afrobeta slips into place. Then comes that most pleasant of moments when the band’s instruments commandeer the DJ’s track. Afrobeta is on. And they are beloved, rocking their single “Play House.” The too-cool crowd is transformed; girls no longer slither on banquettes but rather smile and bounce. Cuci wades into the audience, bunny-hopping until the room is hers, everyone jumping together.
You wanna play house/and make babies/Ah! you must be crazy/What you thinkin’ baby?
Then later in the set, another trip into the crowd:
It’s close to midnight and something evil’s lurking in the dark/Under the moonlight, you see a sight that almost stops your heart….
“Thriller” is old and dear, but the sound is new: avant-garde nostalgia. The room dances on as Afrobeta pulls it off.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL KEARNEY
Peter Max talks 'Ocean Drive'-commissioned cover artwork & more with Mika Brzezinski