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Xenia Rubinos, Olga Bell And Sammus Want To Know If You're Really Down

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Commissioned by Tune-Yards' radio show, Xenia Rubinos (left) teamed up with Olga Bell and Sammus to create a new song.
Courtesy of the artist

Commissioned by Tune-Yards' radio show, Xenia Rubinos (left) teamed up with Olga Bell and Sammus to create a new song.

Brooklyn-based composer and vocalist Xenia Rubinos has been an Alt.Latino favorite since her magical debut album in 2013. Her latest piece "Levitating," a new and first-time collaboration with producer/performers Sammus and Olga Bell, is an intersectional tour de force.

The tune emerged after Rubinos was invited by Tune-Yards' Merrill Garbus to create a collaborative piece for C.L.A.W. (the Collaborative Legions of Artful Womxn), Garbus' monthly audio program featuring new music by female-identifying artists. Rubinos had recently played the same stage as Bell and Sammus, and asked them to join her in creating a new piece.

"Levitating" starts with an upward-tinkling set of notes and vocals, punctuated by laughter, and then moving into a warm, smooth groove that frames hard-hitting verses. The first is crafted by Sammus:

Support comes from

Straight, white, thin, cis or rich
You got some privilege
Recognize it...

The tune highlights each musician's gifts: after the three decided to focus on one of Rubinos' vocal ideas, Bell produced the whole track, its beat and synth parts establishing a laid-back musical groove over which Rubinos and Sammus improvise with smart, incisive lyrics. Rubinos describes (via email) that the collaboration was freeing and "like trying on someone's sunglasses and seeing the world through their hues."

The song's second verse features Rubinos spitting in both English and Spanish, asking us all a crucial question:

American dreamers
all our cousins aunties uncles sisters brothers
torn apart by these United States
all for one and one for none
when everything's said and done are you really down?

As Sammus summed up in a tweet, the collaboration highlights the importance of making a profound, complete commitment to the other: "This is a song in which I shared what intersectionality means to me — if u say u r down, r u down for me? For other brown folks? For queer folks? For trans folks? For poor folks? Fat folks? Disabled folks? Are you down baby?"

And as "Levitating" proves, when you're down — really down — and you step out of your comfort zone to collaborate with another, there's the possibility of new and previously unimaginable results that belong to all the creators.

"Levitating" is available now on Bandcamp.

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