A key part of the appeal of the so-called tropical scene is its otherness: the escapism it provides from the default musical options that in time leave you feeling culturally claustrophobic. The dynamic freshness of the left-field beats and the melodic framing in tandem pretty much always provide a sidestep from the mainstream that goes down a treat. Thing is, though, there’s a non-inconsequential risk of it creating a smug boys’ club, one that would probably leave you thinking that you and Gilles Peterson are fam in waiting, just because you’re up on your Angolan vibes. The campaign for real ale are waiting for you with open arms.
Which brings us to this album, Ay De Mi by Rafi El, which dropped today on Dutty Artz. Straight on the back of having blown out the candles on its sixth birthday cake, the label has made a point of retaining that otherness, but while asserting that these sounds don’t – and shouldn’t – exist in isolation. So it proves with Ay De Mi. Straight off the bat with the opener, “Senda,” it seeks out a sweet spot of togetherness: soulful downbeat electronica that glides between realms – kind of like The Weeknd taking a weeknd break to Latin America and getting giddy with what he finds. Rafi El has seen this mission statement of global oneness through to the end, as drum & bass and dubstep try to share the bedcovers with cumbia and kuduro. Seamlessly. What you have here is a crisp, bold and smart attempt to ratify where music stands at this moment in time, that otherness for its own sake is a wanker’s refuge. Ay De Mi hints at a whole planet of vibes over 11 tracks, which is some doing.
Not feeling his purple scarf, though.