The Colombian duo began producing music in their living room and today they are aiming for the Latin Grammy.
Only in the last year, Mauricio Rengifo (Santiago de Cali, 1988), together with Andrés Torres, has produced music for artists of the stature of Juanes, Daddy Yankee, Ricky Martin, Luis Fonsi, Andrés Cepeda, and Manuel Medrano. The work of this duo is so powerful in the world of Spanish pop that, for the second time in a row, they are nominated for a Latin Grammy in the category of the producer of the year.
But Rengifo has another duo in which, according to him, he can experiment and do things that he cannot with other artists. This is the project in which he not only produces but also sings with his brother Alejandro: Cali y el Dandee.
Initially, his career was very strong in Spain. Perhaps more than here. So much so that in 2012 they recorded a version of the song ‘Gol’ with David Bisbal for the Eurocup. That has been just one of his many collaborations, which are also diverse and successful. They have played with artists like Shaggy, Reik, Mike Bahía. Now they are promoting a song with Danna Paola, an actress, and singer who started her popularity on the Spanish series ‘Elite’.
But before climbing relatively quickly to the cream of pop, Mauricio and Alejandro Rengifo were interested in experimenting, trying different things, mixing genres, using elements of foreign music. Some of that remains in his proposal, which began as a desire to make Colombian music unmarked from folklore, and in a decade he managed to participate in something the size of ‘Despacito’.
The first song of you that sounded on the radio was ‘Volver’?
Cali: At that time I was still in school. We recorded a lot of very ‘amateur’ music. We would make the songs and I would send them to two or three friends, and they would send them to all their friends. ‘Volver’ was one of those songs that ended up being spread throughout all the schools in Bogotá. Suddenly you were also at school. There we realized that it was no longer a game, but that our music was taking on a sound that people were liking. That was about ten years ago, around the middle of 2010. That’s when we decided to follow that path.
Around that same time, I remember a song they made with the Capzula band. I don’t think many people remember that the lead singer of that band is now Mike Bahía …
Dandee: People have no idea! We did not study at the same school, but in Cali, we were in the same group of friends who went out on Fridays. He was the boyfriend of a friend of mine from school. We always sang together. When I moved to Bogotá, he started Capzula in Cali, with some of his friends. So I produced songs for them. I did it there, on the computer, in my living room, because I was little. The second song that I produced for them, we sang it too, like Cali and Dandee, and that was before releasing ‘Volver’.
Cali: We called ourselves Cali and Dandee a month ago…
Dandee: Yes! And I remember that Mike’s group participated in a La Mega contest and they won it. And he said: ‘Mauro, come on, why don’t you sing that song with us at the station’s concert?’ This was 80,000 people in the Simón Bolívar Park. It was the first time we sang in a place other than a friend’s living room.
Around 2011 and 2012 you were very successful in Spain. How was that?
Dandee: The first place we played outside of Colombia was in Spain. It was thanks to YouTube. One day they called us from Spain and it turned out that ‘I’ll wait for you’ was a total success there and we had no idea. We went and played a lot there. Very soon we also went to Argentina and it also went very well. We began to realize that the globalization of music was real: that you could make a song in your room and you could go around the world. The internet helped this generation of artists that we are part of to fulfill their dreams. Even without leaving the house.
At that time they had a very experimental side that can be heard on the album ‘3 A.M’ …
Cali: What we did at that time was put together a series of songs that we had recorded for several years and put them on the same album. It did not have a clear common thread. It was important because it had hits like ‘I’ll wait for you’, but later it brought up many songs that had nothing to do with each other and that do not resemble what we want to do now. It’s very different from Colegio, the new album, which does have a concept.
Dandee: Our obsession at that time was to make Colombian music that did not sound like Colombian folklore. We came from the success of Carlos Vives, Juanes, Fonseca. All that, in a way, had to do with folklore: cumbia, charanga, accordions, bagpipes. People already knew that. That was fine, but we didn’t want to keep repeating it. We wanted to show that Colombia is indeed Return skirts and hats, but it is also other things. Now that is more than clear with the great Latin American music industry, which is completely global.
And that you at the beginning resisted a little to reggaeton being made in Colombia …
Dandee: We were used to reggaeton sounding like Don Omar, Daddy Yankee, Zion, and Lennox. Nothing that was not from Puerto Rico seemed reggaeton to us. Then we realized that what they did in Medellín was one of the most important things for the Spanish music industry in recent years. That defined what is happening right now. What we were trying to do with gringo music, they were trying to do with Puerto Rican music: daring to try to intervene, even risking that the attempt would go wrong.
How was the process in which Mauricio was creating his role as producer and Alejandro as a soloist?
Cali: Well, Cali and Dandee started because Mauro was working on his computer producing music, experimenting. One of those experiments was for me to get into the studio to add a different ‘core’ to ballads. But it’s not like we got separated.
Is Cali y el Dandee the place where they can experience, from production, things that they cannot with other artists?
Dandee: Yes, I would say yes because with Cali and Dandee we make all the decisions about how we want the songs to sound, we don’t have to reconcile our ideas with those of others. We have always treated Cali and Dandee as an experiment, what happens is that many of those experiments have stuck, they have gone well.
Cali: At that time, in 2009 or 2010, we were trying to cover many genres. We did a reggaeton that had salsa, an R&B with rap. That was not used at that time. And we were not afraid to mix. We are not scared yet. On the other hand, other artists would tell you: ‘No, better not because of my audience, because of such a thing’.
When it comes to singing with other artists, not producing music for them, how do you choose who you want to work with?
Dandee: The most important thing for us is that that person we choose completely change the song. That he is not an artist who sounds the same to us, because that’s what we do and that’s it. Our idea is to expand the music with collaboration.
Cali: When we already have a demo of a song, we listen to it and imagine which artist would be amazing a part there. And there we started looking for artists.
Once again Mauricio was nominated as producer of the year, along with Andrés Torres, at the Latin Grammys, how do you take it?
Dandee: It’s not to be ungrateful, but nominations are not our motivation when it comes to making music. We are very excited when it happens, of course. But I always feel unpleasant because there are many producers that I admire and from whom I am inspired, from whom I copy things, and I don’t see nominees there… so it feels strange. I think that this issue of awards should not be taken so seriously. There may be a 12-year-old boy right now who, at home, is producing better music than Andrés and me. Of course, it would be a dream to win that Grammy, but our motivation is that, on a normal day, in the morning we arrive at the studio and there is nothing and that at night there is a song. That’s what it’s about.