Through his life and music, Rafi eL has been constantly circling back to the source of his creativity, the mountains of South America – long a source of cultural wealth and shamanic power. Born in Israel, then raised in Los Angeles by Argentine-Jewish parents, his earliest days were steeped in the sounds and cultures of three continents. Rafi eL’s music gained form in L.A.’s simmering pan-Latino communities, drawing in equal parts from the raw grit of backyard cumbias and the synthy exuberance of hyphy rap. But it was a trip to Latin America – via the experience of hearing an Ayuahasca shaman playing songs on a charango – that transported Rafi back to the music of the Andes, the music that borders his parents’ old home in Argentina. Zeroing in on this musical inspiration, he moved towards the music of his ancestral roots, wrapping his distinctive voice around a unique production style where hard-driving electronic beats share space with acoustic, folkloric instruments.
Teaming up with Dutty Artz, New York’s forward thinking tropical label, Rafi eL began releasing a string of free singles and covers in 2013 that made Global Bass aficionados take note. They included a Spanish-language remake of Dr. Dre’s “What’s the Difference” (re-imagining the Cali classic as a bilingual border-crossing anthem), an EP of remixes based off his infectious Tra Ba rhythm, and Siempre Quiero Más, a Spanish rework of Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough” which bounces joyously over minimal 808 kicks and reggaeton claps.
Ay De Mi, Rafi eL’s full-length debut on Dutty Artz, builds on electronic and tropical rhythms, layering them with a unique songwriting vision, in which Spanish collides with English, exuberance alternates with reflection, and South American folk traditions merge with heavy dancefloor love. Sometimes rapping, sometimes singing, Rafi eL weaves an immigrant’s tale of searching for connection in a fragmented city, and finding release in the delirious dance… It’s the sound of Los Angeles today.