Xenia Rubinos: Adventures In Syncopation The Brooklyn-based keyboardist and vocalist favors rhythms that are surprising and experimental. Her debut album is called Magic Trix.
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Xenia Rubinos: Adventures In Syncopation

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Xenia Rubinos: Adventures In Syncopation


I've seen lots of adjectives used to describe Xenia Rubinos and her debut album "Magic Trix": imaginative, visceral, playful, danceable, absurdist, soulful. But I think my favorite is this line: "Magic Trix" by Xenia Rubinos might cause an initial reaction like you are being tased, as in struck by a taser.


XENIA RUBINOS: (Singing) When you're going to the (unintelligible), and seen so many, just take some time to ask around why isn't anyone (unintelligible) really want to get on a different kind of (unintelligible). Who is the last one to arrive?

MARTIN: Brooklyn-based keyboardist Xenia Rubinos has teamed up with drummer Marco Buccelli to produce "Magic Trix." The tracks on this collection sometimes feel Caribbean, sometimes experimental, and they are always surprising. Xenia Rubinos joins us now from our New York Bureau. Welcome to the program, Xenia.

RUBINOS: Thanks so much for having me, Rachel.

MARTIN: So, I people who like to arrange their music collections by genre, perhaps, might have a tough time with this CD. Is that something you acknowledge or embrace?

RUBINOS: Definitely. I think it's a good problem to have, although I do aspire to eventually concisely and clearly explain exactly what it is I do. I'm not there at the moment.

MARTIN: You say you're not there at this point.

RUBINOS: No. I mean, I don't really think of music that way in terms of when I'm composing or playing or making music. I don't really think about genres. And I think that's why my music sounds the way it does. I am thinking more about texture and sound and flavors.

MARTIN: I like the idea of flavors. When you're composing, do you use your voice? Do you have to sound things out vocally?

RUBINOS: Yes. My voice is my primary instrument. I mean, I play keyboards now as well, but I always consider myself a vocalist. And I use my instrument in composition. And a lot of times I force myself to stay away from the keyboard until I have a concrete idea vocally. And usually, you know, the words are the last thing that come. I'm just making sounds and making melodies up and then they eventually start to take some kind of shape that I can assimilate into a word.

MARTIN: But interesting, the first cut on this album is a real piece of storytelling. There's a narrative here. It's about a woman named Rosa. Can you introduce her to us? What is her story?

RUBINOS: Rosa is kind of a legendary figure in my family. She is a mystic figure that came from Puerto Rico to the United States to heal a man who was on his deathbed, and healed this man and got him walking. And then she - legend says that she lived under a bridge for the next several months with her sons until she was able to afford a roof. So, these stories of my family and kind of the Latino culture of superstition and Santeria practices and all of these are something that have really inspired me. And I was thinking a lot about while I was making the record.


MARTIN: So, you're playing a lot with syncopation there and unexpected beats. Is that intentional? Are you trying to keep people a little off-balance?

RUBINOS: I think I'm a little off-balance.


RUBINOS: Yeah. It's something I have a lot of fun with, just taking one rhythmic figure and turning it around as many ways as I can. And that's a huge part of my compositional process and just messing around with something very simple. And I'm seeing how far I can take it.


MARTIN: There is the occasional song in Spanish on this album. There's one track - and I'm going to mispronounce, this but I'm going to try - "Los Mangopaunos."

RUBINOS: That was pretty good. It's a made-up word. It doesn't even exist.

MARTIN: Oh good. Thank goodness.

RUBINOS: So, how would you know? You know, it's just no way. It's "Los Mangopaunos."


MARTIN: I don't know what you're saying but it's awesome.


RUBINOS: I'm saying the mangopaunos grow like statues. That's it.

MARTIN: So, what's happening in there?

RUBINOS: I was living in this great neighborhood in Brooklyn called Gowanus a couple of years ago and I was living in this kind of dilapidated apartment. And eventually I found that I had a lot of visitors living with me. I had a lot of mice. And one day I looked down - I was writing a song, I was playing keyboards - and I looked down. There was a mouse that was literally just sitting there looking at, like, staring at me. So, I made up this story that these mice, they were like this Martian tribe that came in peace and that they had own thing going on, they had their own lives. They, you know, have rituals and they danced in the moonlight and they're good folks but that they grow and they multiply.


MARTIN: So, let's do something we don't get to do very often here - play a complete song, because it's only 34 seconds long. Let's listen to this track. It's called "Aurora de Mayo."


MARTIN: So, I'm guessing this wasn't recorded in a studio. Where were you?

RUBINOS: I was at the engineer's house. We were finishing mixing the record and I just sat on his windowsill and we recorded it.

MARTIN: And you liked that, just the ambient sound of the moment.

RUBINOS: Yeah. It's a traditional children's song that I learned from my Cuban aunt, whose name was Aurora. And it was important to me to just sing it the way that we would have sung it at home together and just kind of capture that moment of kind of childlike playfulness that you're just maybe in a corner imagining and playing and figuring things out by playing. And so the idea was to just keep that kind of energy for the recording. And so some of the words in that song that I'm singing might be wrong but I just wanted to sing it the way I remembered it in the moment.

MARTIN: Xenia Rubinos, talking with us from her studios in New York. Her debut CD is called "Magic Trix." Thanks so much for talking with us, Xenia.

RUBINOS: Thanks so much for having me, Rachel.


MARTIN: And you can hear more good stuff off the album "Magic Trix" at our website, nprmusic.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

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