Carlos Niño Is in the Business of "Trust Music"

The prolific California artist discuses his genre-defying practice and why he only makes music with good friends – André 3000 among them.

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Carlos Niño has worked on upwards of 150 albums throughout his career and yet, seemingly none have been put under such a microscopic lens as his latest collaboration: André 3000’s New Blue Sun. Released last month, the LP was André’s debut solo album and his first album in 17 years – naturally, critics were eager to wax poetic about the instrumental, “no bars” flute record. Most reviews referred to the project as “new age,” “abstract jazz” or “ambient” music. But Niño, the producer of New Blue Sun alongside André himself, says that the rush to define the album has “almost entirely missed the point.”

In other words, just because a piece of music is experimental or contains a gong or chimes doesn’t mean that it should be classified as New Age, Niño observes. In the same tune, just because you could meditate to Niño’s music, doesn’t mean that it’s ambient.

“When New Blue Sun came out, people were rushing, like feverishly, almost, to write something about it or to have a headline,” Niño tells Hypebeast in a recent interview. “Or to say something even a few days before it came out, even when no one had heard it yet. People were rushing to pre-decide what it was they thought the album would sound like or be like.”

At 46 years old, the producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist has spent more than of his life immersed in music. He started his first radio show as a teenager on a local station and went on to help launch the experimental radio station dublab, toured as a DJ and written, produced and composed for bands both locally and internationally. He’s best friends with New Age pioneer Iasos. These connections, his prolific output – and the labels that critics have mistakenly assigned to him over the decades – led to Niño inventing a new vocabulary to describe his work: “a spiritual improvisational space,” “collage music,” “energy music.”

As for New Blue Sun? He describes his contributions to the project as “trust music.”

André and Niño only met in 2020, a few years before making the album, and the tale is so perfectly Los Angeles that it almost seems fabricated. While Niño was shopping at Erewhon he ran into a close friend who was with the OutKast rapper. He invited the two of them to a nearby concert he had helped to organize — and would be performing at — as a tribute to Alice Coltrane, one of his biggest musical influences.

After the show, André told Niño that he had been listening to quite a bit of Coltrane himself and saw it as a “message.” The two artists stayed in touch and after several months of ideating sessions amid lockdown, they joined forces in May 201 for their first session and the following year, commenced the sessions of “spontaneous composition” that would go on to form New Blue Sun. They worked on mixing the music throughout 2022 and finalized it just in the weeks leading up to its release.

“The word ‘trust’ has come up a lot regarding the record with André, because I feel like he’s in a position where he could work with anybody in the world at any moment.”

“The word ‘trust’ has come up a lot regarding the record with André because I feel like he’s in a position where he could work with anybody in the world at any moment,” Niño says. “People will answer his call, but from that day, we became pretty close.”

Virtually everyone he makes music with is a close friend first and foremost. Since 2008, he’s been putting out albums under the moniker Carlos Niño & Friends, where “Friends” describes a rotating group of musical creatives whom Niño shares a kinship with, a “criteria” for working together.

“They’re actually people that I’m friends with, people that I would have a meal with or go to the beach with,” Niño says. “I constantly do [music] and this is my life, so it happens that 95% of my friend group are also creative musical artists.”

His last album released under the project, September’s (I’m just) Chillin’, on Fire, featured André – who was playing the flute – Laraaji, Kamasi Washington and more than a dozen other artists, including his 24-year-old child Azul, who created all of the LP’s visualizers, adding on to a lifetime of working with their father. While he has a long list of musical talents on speed dial, for his next project, Placenta, Niño is looking toward the people he spends the most time with: his partner and two sons, one of whom is approaching his first birthday.

As a father to both an adult and a baby, Niño says he’s been considering how his children have oriented him in his life, particularly, the “metaphor of a placenta” following the birth of his son. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, he’s also been diving further into experimenting with organ music.

“I’ve come to the point where I’m interested in collaborating with people that I love and that I trust and that I want to work with,” he says. “It’s kind of amazing how, in this idea of ‘Friends,’ they’re actually my family.”

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