With commercial flights between Cuba and the United States now officially taking off, the lines between the musical cultures of these two neighboring lands are getting blurred like never before. While festivals like MANANA and the genre-blending work of Cuban producers like DJ Jigüe are harnessing recent changes to promote a new of cultural sharing between the two oft-troubled nations, a producer by the name of Alpha 606 has been toying with a similar aesthetic in his music—in his case, blending percussive electro and traditional Cuban sounds.
Real name Armando Martinez, the Miami-based producer of Cuban descent, just dropped an album entitled Afro-Cuban Electronics on famed Detroit techno label Interdimensional Transmissions, billing the album as a "love letter to Cuba and his family and their struggles." According to the label the 12-track album has been years in the making, and follows their release of RMXD, which included new versions of Alpha 606 tracks from IT label heads BMG, Erika, as well as Detroit artist Anthony "Shake" Shakir.
The album features a tight and sometimes abrasive palette of sounds ranging from Miami bass to gritty techno, all the while nodding to Cuba's long love affair with percussive styles ranging from rumba to guaguancó . Timing wise, it's an interesting portal into new ways that the musical history of the two nations can relate in ways built for dark dancefloors and heady headphone sessions—although it's been in the works for some time. Along with a full stream of the new album, we had a chat with Interdimensional Transmissions' BMG co-labelhead to hear more about how the project came to be.
THUMP: Releasing music that shines a light on both Miami and Cuba isn't necessarily what's first to come to mind from Interdimensional Transmissions. What was it that first intrigued and introduced you guys to Alpha 606's work?
BMG: There's actually a strong connection between Miami and Detroit. Miami Bass was huge radio music here, I remember the awe I felt when I first heard "Throw That D" by Luke on The Scene. The music of Pretty Tony, so many jams. This music was the basis of what the Wizard played, Jeff Mills' Detroit Radio persona of the 80s. In the late 90s I got involved with Schematic Records who were doing this futuristic psychedelic highly advanced technologically sound that fused Miami Bass influences and hip hop influences with the advances of Aphex and Authechre and actual avant-garde music all abstracted into this insanely fun music. This was the early days when Richie Devine first started working with them and Otto Von Shirrach was still a graver (goth raver). For a period of time I distributed their label via my company Star 67. So I would visit Miami regularly, play their events and go see shows.
When I first heard Alpha 606 I thought it was such cool music, but when I saw Armando do these live performances I was just blown away. I just had to include him within IT. He had successfully fused all these disparate influences with the music of his heritage and the angst of the exile. The use of hand drumming techniques within his electro / post electro was just amazing. The base of the Cuban expats is a town outside Miami called Hialeah, which also happens to be where Miami Bass was born. For me it was full circle, taking this inspiration and pushing the ideas into the future.
With commercial flights to Cuba just opening up this past week, do you expect that we're going to start hearing more US techno/electro producers toying with some of the island's sounds in a more modern sense?
Cuban music has been integrated into American music since the closing of Havana in 1935. It was our weekend getaway until then, it had everything Vegas is known for but it was obviously way better music, real jazz, and afro-cuban rhythms. These rhythms tie into a forgotten aspect of ourselves, a hidden code, where the drum has healing power. You can trace this to the Yoruba, but these connections were forgotten. That is why these rhythms and codes of the clave are so important. As the boundaries dissolve, I can only hope that our music becomes more rhythmically complex and life affirming as the influences from Cuba seem to bring.
Did the timing of the album have anything to do with that?
I grew up in the scars of the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam war. Castro was an easy villain. The CIA cut off Che Guevara's hands—psychic warfare. These are not bad people no matter how terrible their government ever was, and as Americans we will have to be reminding people of that for the rest of our lives. It is important to show within music the truths that the media tries so hard to hide.
You guys released an EP featuring remixes of a few of the albums tracks back in May. Tell me about the choice to drop that first before this album.
We wanted people to be reminded of just how fresh and invigorating the music of Alpha 606 is, so we used these remixes to get attention for his project, to help people know who he is to be excited for his album.
What's next for the IT crew?
We are currently recording the Ectomorph album. To be released before that, we are just finishing the mixing of a single that is a collaboration between Tin Man & Ectomorph, which will launch an Acid series for the label, while Eye Teeth continues with a single from KGIV.