Cuban Influence Sets The Foundation For Vakeró’s New Album, ‘Mutación’
Vakeró is a purveyor of authenticity in the age of prepackaged music. The award-winning rapper and beloved vocalist is responsible for helping establish what many call “urban music” in his home country of the Dominican Republic.
But what really sets Vakeró’ apart from the hodgepodge of contemporary Latino musicians, and recording artists in general, is his timelessness. His primary concern, and perhaps his greatest contribution (although one could argue it a disadvantage), is his conviction to do without the commodification of his work, a sound he proudly describes as “rooted in hip-hop that takes from tropical and reggae.”
As he readies the release of his upcoming album, Mutación, a “total divorce” from his previous work and the work he most identifies with, Vakeró—who credits Bob Marley and Fania as musical influences—unpacks with us the threads responsible for the fabric of his latest opus. Apart from unpopular subject matters and his current stage of transition in life, Vakeró cites his trip to Cuba and the island’s rich catalogue as a big influence in the sound of his new LP.
VIBE Viva: Tell me more about Mutación.
Vakeró: Out of all the things I’ve done, I’ve identified most with Mutación because the songs are about themes that few artists are willing to talk about.
What are some of those themes?
Like “Mi Sepelio,” which is my first single, about a deceased spirit who reawakens in the afterlife and visits his mom, wife and kids. They were all fighting about a will that was left behind and have forgotten about who he was as a person. That’s a theme that not everyone talks about because we fear death, and people don’t want to talk about death.
There’s another song that my wife asked me if I made it for her, and I lied and said no. But I really made it for her but I dedicated it to myself, because sometimes we have friends, and we go out for drinks and you forget to call your house. So I made a song titled “Puro y Sincero.” It’s where I’m telling the guy, “Be good to her, because she hasn’t been bad to you; she’s good to you.” It’s a theme that’s not really talked about in songs, because it’s easier to make songs about bling bling, ass and tits. So that’s why I prefer to talk about other things—and that’s what Mutación is about.
And why “mutación,” what’s the significance behind that word?
We decided to go with the name Mutación, which is just like a metamorphosis, but “metamorphosis” is cliché. In this album you’ll see that change in the musicality of it all. We’re totally divorced from anything we’ve ever done before. This album for me is special, and I identify with it more than with other projects I’ve done in the past.
Did you make the album in the Dominican Republic?
Yes, except for “Mi Sepelio,” which I made here in Queens [New York], with the maestro Angel Fernandez. Ghetto also participated in the production. The musicality was done in total by Musico A1, of whom some are based here as well in the States. The rest was recorded between San Pedro de Macoris and Santo Domingo.
You traveled to Cuba fairly recently. Tell me about that experience.
Yes, I went with my father last year. We went on vacation. It was an excellent experience. Since I was a child, I saw my father’s love for Cuba; that’s why I gifted him with that. The people are great—they live their lives laughing and dancing. I went to Old Havana, Tropicana and the legendary Whitey. It was a marvelous experience. On Mutación you’ll see a big Cuban influence on there, because I listened to a lot of Cuban music.
Any notable features or collaborations?
I used musicians from my group, and they also participated in the record. There are other collaborations with other artists who I like, like Kayla Michelle. She’s a singer who is based out of St. Martin for a while, and thanks to a friend I was able to connect with her. She’s not as well known, but she has an incredible voice and she gave that special touch to some of the songs.
We also have Locos Por Juana, an alternative group that I like very much, because while we were in the studio we spoke about the music that we like and the music we grew up with. They like music from Spain, and so do I. They see music like I do, and there’s a few artists right now that are interested in contributing to a subject that is used for the good in society. I liked recording with them.
Also, Messiah is on the record. The nice thing about this collaboration with Messiah is that he departed from what people know him to do, which is Latin trap. I used him for a merengue song, but it’s not traditional merengue. It’s with a modern twist, more in touch with our current times. When I sent him the finished song, he was like, “Bro, we have to release this as soon as possible!” And I was like, “Nah, it’s going toward my album.” He said his girlfriend even loved the song.
My brother Kunin is on it as well. Everything we record we make a hit, and we have success. That’s something that you don’t see much in families, because there is always someone who is stronger than the other. Here we’re both strong.
Who are you listening to now? Anyone who might have inspired work for this new record?
The music I listened to hasn’t really changed. I listen to a lot of ’90s hip-hop. If it’s Latin music, I listen to a lot of Hector Lavoe and Ismael Rivera. If it’s reggaeton, it’s the same as always. Right now, I really like Residente, and I also listen to his Calle 13 stuff. I also listen to Violadores del Verso. The more current artists—I don’t mean to offend anyone—aren’t saying anything that really interests me. Maybe that distaste comes from me being a family man, and maybe their lyrics are just way too explicit.
When does the album debut?
We’re thinking about releasing it at the end of September. There is a probability that will be the launch date. We might do it in October, but rest assured, this year won’t pass without people having this record.
How was your show at SOB’s?
That was my first time, and it was beautiful to see the crowd enjoy my songs. I had quite some time I didn’t see a crowd that enjoyed the songs the way they did—letting go of the champagne and the drinks and the cell phones. They paid attention, used their hands to clap, they were tuned in. It was beautiful, and the end was excellent. There was a group of fans there that sported different types of Vakeró styles, like short and long hair. The managers of the place were content—they didn’t even know my music before but wanted me to come back.
That’s awesome, because SOB’s is like a platform that elevates artists.
Yeah, they told me, “Right on that couch where you’re sitting, I was talking to John Legend and told him he was going to be a big star—look who John Legend is now.” Then they said, “Look behind you.” And I see a plaque of an event that was held there called Bob Marley’s Day and Julian Marley’s debut. They also showed me one of Celia Cruz, and it just felt really good to be in that kind of company.
What has changed since the last time we saw you at SXSW?
Personally, my daughter Isabel has grown a lot. [Laughs] You guys saw her much smaller. She’s so beautiful. But musically I’ve grown a lot as well. Lots of things changed. Like my faith: I’ve never lost it, but now it’s more solidified. I’ve found people that really understand and support my movement. It’s not because trap music is now popular, and I have to do it to make a living. No, I get to still produce work that I believe in. There’s a lot of people that agree with the creations I make. Participating at SXSW made me believe that.