On Carolina Camacho’s new album AfroTaína, the power of voice as a musical instrument (and as a tool for liberation) is immense.
In an interview with Remezcla, Camacho explained that she truly wanted to have a voz marcada on this album. From the first few seconds of “Vida,” it’s clear that she accomplishes this; the voz marcada effect leads us on an earthy journey of healing out of painful love. “Y del agua de tu fuente, yo bebía, yo bebía y del agua de mi fuente, tu bebías, tu bebías,” she laments.
“I wanted to celebrate my roots and my heritage with this album; that’s why it’s one word, one union – AfroTaína.” With a Loop Station as one of her main pieces of hardware, Camacho masterfully communicates this celebration of her identities by manipulating her voice alongside drums, guitars, and other Afro-Caribbean instruments.
Camcacho’s 2014 Atabey EP draws its namesake from a Taíno goddess. That project celebrated brownness, blackness, and sexual liberation, especially in songs like “Tambores” and “Ninfa de Las Aguas.” While she didn’t break away from these themes on AfroTaína, this album seems like a graduation from the master class of self-love expounded on Atabey. AfroTaína drives the point home; it is a celebration of women in all their splendor, power, and complexity. Lead single “Leona” is a hymn to the feminine energy of Caribbean women, encouraging them to let down their hair and dance.
But AfroTaína isn’t mere celebration; it is a decolonized revindication and a powerful statement against anti-blackness and misogyny. Camacho’s political messages are instilled in percussive beats that are new in their electronic formation, but feel nostalgic to the Afro-Quisqueya soul. This is especially clear in songs like “Palo de Colores” and “Amarra.”
In “Palo de Colores,” she sings, “Me declaro Afro-Antillana, no me obligues a matar mi negro, pa’ que viva tu blanco.” It’s an unapologetic battle cry that so many Latin American afrodescendientes can relate to. Camacho’s operatic vocals function like a strong yet soothing ginger tea. “This song is meant to be like a thread,” she says, connecting the complex racial history of our continent.
“Amarra” was an experiment that Carolina Camacho believes might shock some fans, since it’s a dembow song that breaks away from the misogynistic themes that plague the genre. Camacho felt compelled to record it when she saw 11-year-olds dancing to extremely sexist lyrics. “The words in this song are different, and have a different discourse about sexuality,” she explains. Indeed, “Amarra” is different from what we might be used to hearing in dembow, all while staying true to the genre. Bebe’s feminism meets Ivy Queen’s bacanería, all over a booty-shaking dembow riddim. To top it off, producer Raul Sotomayor adds a skeleton of a perico ripiao riff, reminiscent of Daddy Yankee’s “Lo Que Paso Paso.”
Even if some listeners are surprised, “Amarra” is actually perfect for an album that exalts blackness. Dembow in itself (much like bachata until not too recently) continues to be considered música de barrio. That it is present in this collection serves as a reminder of the blackness embedded in dembow, one that connects us to a larger black diaspora of hip-hop, reggae, soca, and beyond.
Camacho says that with this album, she hopes to get to people across the globe. “I want to touch as many hearts and ears as possible around the world, take part of my culture to different places.” In songs like “Las Espinas” and the aforementioned “Vida,” she does speak to a much larger audience about the subtle yet very real ways in which unhealthy relationships can take a toll on our lives. In “Las Espinas,” Camacho plays on themes of amargue, but in an unexpected tone that reclaims strength and agency in every form. She croons, “Tu quieres la flor pero no las espinas…me vendiste un sueño, pura fantasia, pa’ alimenta’ tu ego.” As she puts it, “It’s like an amargue empoderado” – an empowered blues.
AfroTaína is an album that touches on the difficult realities of Afro-Latinidad, sexism, and indigeneity, all while taking the listener on a healing journey. “It was made with love and positive energy,” she shares. Trust us – you’ll come out on the other side of this album empowered, ready to fight and love.
Carolina Camacho’s AfroTaína is out now on Apple Music.