Meet Carolina Camacho, an Afro-Dominican Singer Marrying Electronic Beats and Palo Rhythms

Photo by Itzel Alejandra Martinez for Remezcla

In December 2013, singer-songwriter Carolina Camacho released her stunning six-track EP Atabey. Named after the Taino goddess, the record is fueled by feminine energy and nature, built on minimal electronic beats meshed together with Afro-Dominican folkloric music. The whole EP feels like a psychic exploration of the most untouched parts of the world, and is supported with potent lyrics about the power of women, the body, and movement.

Fresh off a plane from Mexico where she’s been recording her newest album (which is anticipated to drop later this year), Camacho came into the Remezcla office to talk to us about her album, the music of her native Dominican Republic, and her part in Afro-Latino Festival, a 3-day celebration of Afro-Latino heritage, music, and history happening in New York on July 8, 9, and 10. At the festival, she will be performing the hypnotizing dance tracks from Atabey, along with newer material that’s destined to send us into a daydream. She lays it out clearly: “If you’re not connected to your [own] force, you’re missing a lot.”

On Harnessing Feminine Energy and Nature for Atabey

My inspiration for the album came mostly from nature and women. I’m really drawn to everything natural — forests, waters – and I think that has a lot to do with be being from the Caribbean. At the same time, I am also drawn to women’s empowerment. So it came naturally to me, and when the album was finished, the name “Atabey” came to me. I was like, “Atabey, that says to me nature, feminine energy, nature, power, roots.” [She’s] a Taina moon goddess – how is not going to be named Atabey?

I think the connection between women and nature is there from our inception. Because we’re the ones who give life and can bring life into the world. I think that this connection has been lost in the past few years, but I do see interest in reclaiming that center and knowing who we are, what we can do as women. So it’s like returning to your nest. Trying to find yourself within. I think women are divine beings and perhaps we don’t realize it yet. We have a really strong force. If we realize that, we can achieve anything.

Photo by Itzel Alejandra for Remezcla
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With the electronic part, it was important to me not to only stay with the roots music of my country. I was interested in making it more global. So when I perform, I’m not only using the loop station, but I have the band too. So electronic is a genre and a sound and it all converges with the folklore.

On Afro-Folkloric Music of the Dominican Republic

In Santo Domingo especially, there’s this really interesting thing that happens with folkloric music where the majority of the population doesn’t know anything about it. Or perhaps they know, but they don’t understand it fully. There’s another, much smaller part of the population that knows it because they grew up with that. So when I began to study this music, it was interesting to me because that’s the music of my country – beyond just merengue. The folkloric music that comes from my African ancestors – palo, gagá, bambulá.

I realized that, even though I wasn’t born with this music, it flowed through my pores. There was this person named José Duluc, he’s one of the best experts from my country, and he told me, “This is yours.” If someone of that caliber tells you that, it’s obvious. So it was a natural learning experience. Nowadays, I see that things are the other way around – there’s an interest to grab what is hidden and to make it known internationally. That’s a lot of groups – not just me. In Dominican Republic for example, we have Concon Quemao, who fuse rock with folkloric sounds.

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On the Importance of Highlighting Dominicans’ African Roots

I feel so happy to be part of [Afro-Latino Fest] because I love what this festival represents. I love the energy that they work with – you can feel it. To be part of that is indescribable.

“I think women are divine beings and perhaps we don’t realize it yet.”

Why aren’t African rhythms as well-known as they should be in the Dominican Republic? It’s known that we have African, European, and a bit of Taino ancestry. But we have not yet completely appreciated the African side. It’s a beauty to have the mestizaje that we have, a synchronicity of the African and what was left of the Tainos. I think that we have to learn how to embrace all of it and not throw aside what we have that we don’t understand. Until we don’t understand it, we’re always going to reject that side.

On Dominican-Haitian Relations

That’s a super delicate topic, because it’s been around for years and years, and it’s not black and white. Obviously there’s an issue and obviously it hasn’t been treated in the best way internationally. Yes, there’s a problem – Dominican-Haitian and Haitian-Dominican – but Dominicans should not be demonized the way they have been.

It’s like the immigration issue anywhere in the world. I think that Dominicans try to manage it in the best way. I think we should work on a way to focus it, [make it] less sensationalized and less about Dominicans treating Haitians wrong. We have a lot in common – a lot of similar things in our culture. Like our dance [gagá] – they have rará and they dance it in similar ways. There are beautiful things to explore and live.

On What to Expect from Her Next Project

On the last album, I worked with a lot of folkloric music. On this one, in addition to folkloric music, I’m also working with bachata and merengue. More popular Dominican music is also folklore, but this is on another level. This process is really different than Atabey. When I performed Atabey at shows, no one knew it, and now with my new project, people are recognizing the songs before they come out, and I’m also recording new ones. I have songs about love and falling out of love, socio-political ones, and songs about our roots.

Carolina Camacho plays SOB’s on July 8 at 6 p.m. and C’mon Everybody on July 9 at 12 a.m. For more information, visit the Afro-Latino Festival website.