Hernan Ambrogi is an Argentinian musician who produces electronic music with a Latin folkloric flair under the name Makina. In our recent tutorial on cumbia music we featured a track from his “Gringas” EP in which he blended pop and indie hits with classic latin beats.
He’s now working on a new album, hondo, to be released on the Dutch label Ini Movement, exploring the combination of electronic music production with traditional tango instruments.
We invited Hernan to share more about his creative process, how he merges genres, and the advice he has for pushing your creativity to its full potential.
Q: So to begin could you tell us a bit more about yourself and your musical background?
Well, I started making music when I was 12. I started playing guitar and I’m still playing guitar today at 34. And by the time I was 17 or 18, I started listening to electronic music—Daft Punk and the French electro stuff—and I was blown away.
So, I decided to start getting into production and electronic music. So when I was 19, I went on a trip which took me to Amsterdam and I just stayed. I lived there for 13 years and I studied production there and started making French electro mainly. And then into yeah house, techno, and hip-hop and different kinds of production methods. And I had different projects like Ricky y Rulo, Crunkd, Denver and others.
I started making music as Makina. The trigger was that at some point I re-discovered cumbia. There was an album called Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru. Everybody knows it. When I was teenager I was into heavy metal but here in Argentina, Cumbia—I mean you hear it all the time. So when we were going out with my friends, we danced Cumbia. So it’s something that I have inside.
So I thought it was interesting to combine Cumbia with electronic music. So I started experimenting with samples and combining them with all these different techniques I learned through the years of electronic music production.
I thought it would be funny to take English-speaking singers and put them in the context of Cumbia and electronic music. So that’s what I did. And so I did that for a few years and now Makina has evolved into combining more. I’m about to release an album now with Ini Movement, that’s a label in Holland. And now I combine different kinds of folkloric music, not only Cumbia. Actually this album is sort of a conceptual album for electronics, and bandoneon and guitarra criolla which are usually two typical instruments from tango. So now I have tried to create a new aesthetics for these instruments in this new context.
Listen to De Nuevo from the new album “hondo”
Well I did study at the University there. It’s called the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten, Utrecht. So it’s not exactly in Amsterdam but in another city. I studied for 6 years, bachelors and 2 masters in music production. I learned a lot—but actually I learned the most by doing.
So when I finished the studies I was working as a producer for an artist, and I’m also a DJ. When I finished the studies was when I think I learned the most actually, just by doing and analyzing and always trying to learn new stuff.
I did study a lot of music theory. Like harmony and stuff like that ever since I started playing guitar, because I really like music and I want to know everything I can.
You have to study a lot – and then you have to forget everything and make music.
There is this saying that goes “you have to study a lot – and then you have to forget everything and make music”. I think that’s what I did and what I do regularly. So, you have to study so that it’s inside of you, and then you have to forget it somehow, like not being conscious of that. I think that’s the way I learned.
Yes. But that was not a conscious decision. I was always making my own songs. That just came naturally to me.
I started learning where you learn songs from other artists. You learn about structure, about harmony. That’s something that later you’re playing with on your own music I guess.
It is different with every song actually. I am not somebody who repeats the same structure or the same method every time. Not because I want to break the rules, it’s just that I don’t do it the same way every time.
Lately I’m really into samples. I like working with samples because like when I compose with the guitar, it has certain… rules I cannot break. But when I’m working with samples I don’t think about tonality or function of the chords. I just like what I hear. Later on I can analyze what’s going on—but I want to feel it and not think about it.
I love working with samples. And it’s not because I don’t play an instrument, I do play an instrument. But I like this process better, I think.
In a way yes. I mean when it comes to electronic music, yes.
I also really enjoy having my computer turned off and just playing guitar. To have a cumbia band in Amsterdam was interesting because during the day I would do studio work and I had to be very sharp in the studio and do all this work. And in the evenings I would play guitar which was completely the opposite! Like not thinking, no computers, and just feel the music from another side, you know.
What’s your perspective on that—like what kinds of things do you listen for in a music and have you done any particular practice to get your ear really get tuned into what you need to, for your own music creation?
That’s an interesting question. I still train my ear every day when I listen to music. There are very different ways of listening to music. It’s one thing to listen to music without thinking about it and another to consciously analyze the music. And I think that’s a very interesting process.