“Organic love in a digital world.”
This is how frontwoman Cuci describes Afrobeta, Miami’s favorite electro-funk duo. Everything from the band’s name to its dreamy sound has been influenced by the fast pace of changing technology. “We really started performing together in 2006, which is when … the whole electronic music wave had just started,” the band’s second half, Tony, aka Smurfio, said. “It was really a Renaissance with electronic music, so it was kind of perfect timing.”
The duo met over a decade ago at Jazid in Miami Beach. At the time, Tony was playing with Sueñalo, a local afro-jazz group. “Cuci came in and was dancing one night. We became fast friends, then a couple months later that turned into making music together,” Tony remembers.
Cuci, a frequenter of open mic nights, was also in another band at the time. “I was trying to get him to join my band, and he was trying to get me in his band,” she laughed. Cuci joined Tony’s band for about six months, but it didn’t take long before the duo decided they wanted to be a little bit more “portable.”
The concept of just the two of them collaborating and writing together became increasingly appealing. “We started doing these gigs where we’d just play one song and then improvise the whole rest of the set … and we just wanted to keep doing that,” Cuci explains.
Eventually, they were booking gigs all around Miami. They had the look. They had the talent. They had the sound. But they were missing one thing — a name. Struggling to figure out what to call themselves, Cuci and Tony sent out a group e-mail to about a dozen or so friends. One friend, Mila, wrote back: “Afrobeta.” Everyone loved it.
By kicking off their musical career as an improvisation band, a lot of their sound was influenced by their energetic Miami audiences. “Because all of our shows were late, starting after midnight. … People were drinking and dancing — they wanted to have fun. So we made our music in that style to keep people around and have an audience. We’ve been writing to the Miami audience since the beginning,” Cuci said.
Lyrically, she’s also inspired by the city, writing in a recent playfully dreamy Christmas ballad: “Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, you don’t grow in Miami.”
Since then, they think what has changed most is not their actual sound, but how they produce that sound. “When we first started, we didn’t use computers to make electronic music. Can you imagine that?” Tony said. But now, with the advances in music software, Tony says he has so much more capacity to craft creative sounds at his convenience. “Before, we’d have to go into a studio and pay them for their time. Now we just go to our studio and make the music from scratch,” Tony said.
After he lays down the track, that’s when Cuci comes in. “Tony is very unique when it comes to sound design. He pretty much builds the sound from scratch. Other people tend to just use synthesizer presets. … It’s kind of like if you were a graphic designer but all you used was Times New Roman. Tony makes his own fonts.”
When she hears the sounds Tony is putting together, she gets inspired lyrically. She begins writing a song based on the mood he is already crafting, “it makes [her] visualize something, whether that’s mysterious, ominous, or romantic, whatever.”
She’s also often inspired by her dreams. “I have a lot of very vivid dreams. When I wake up, I write them down and sometimes it’ll be a full song happening in the dream. … I’ve actually already written the song while sleeping,” she said.
They’re a tight-knit duo, yet with so much talent, it’s no surprise that their energies have been spread thin in a number of artistic directions. A few years ago, Tony was hired to tour with Pitbull and spent nearly two years traveling the country. Meanwhile, Cuci was still singing and dancing alongside another producer, booking gigs all around the city, including at the Winter Music Conference.
“I had to really sit down and make a decision. If I would have stayed working with Pitbull, there would be no Afrobeta right now, probably,” Tony said. “I’m very happy with my choice. I was a fish out of water on that tour. … I couldn’t relate to his music or fans or message at all.”
Since then, the duo has been putting out music like never before. They launched their most recent album via a USB bracelet just last month at their Mooncake Jam, hosted by The Rhythm Foundation at the North Beach Bandshell. The bandshell has since become their favorite venue to perform at. “The weather was so perfect, it was a nice theme, and the vibe was great. … It felt like a festival,” Cuci said.
Afrobeta is currently on a 16-city Trick or Beats tour, which is wrapping up on Nov. 14 in Lake Worth, FL. When they get back home to Miami, they will start working on new music for an original play Cuci will be performing in, launching this January. “It’s about a post-apocalyptic future, and we’re looking back at what has happened to the human race,” she said. “It’s gonna be really trippy.”