The temperature is rising, and heat can play tricks on your mind, but American multi-instrumentalist producer Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II (famously known as Sly5thAve) and Mexican pianist/composer Roberto Verástegui found inspiration in that perspiration. Though they originally met while studying jazz at the University of North Texas, their creative partnership blossomed over glasses of delicious hibiscus iced tea (aka agua de Jamaica) on Sylvester’s first trip to Mexico.
When you hear it, you know why “Agua de Jamaica” is the title track of their debut collaborative album. They captured something improbable and certainly rare, the ineffable essence of an afternoon that speaks beyond time, place, language, and culture.
Having embedded himself in the underground hip-hop scene at the Clubhouse in New York, which he credits for much of his funky breakbeat style, Sly5thAve is renowned for his sexy sax work. He spent years playing with the likes of Prince and Quantic, and he steeps this charming track in the smoothest of blows.
Roberto Verástegui may have taught himself how to play instruments like accordion, guitar, marimba, and vihuela, but he has been playing and studying piano since he was only eight, and his generous talents in that capacity take centerstage when he starts cooking in the soul kitchen with Sylvester.
Their playful, masculine energy is wonderfully augmented by the cool, breezy vibes of Silvana Estrada, whose wordless vocals capture the exotic sway of heat shimmer while the boys cook beneath.
Midway through, the beat shifts to reveal a clear hint of Sly5thAve’s Dr. Dre obsession, just stopping short of starting “The Next Episode” before heading in a beachier direction. Overall, this song is like Thundercat stuck one of those “No Bad Days” stickers to the bumper of a hatchback owned by Makaya McCraven. It’s a moment of warmth while the world burns.
The video starts off sweaty and ends dreamily. We see Verástegui and Sly5thAve as they sit around, glistening droplets sliding down the sides of their heads, when an old-timey silent movie caption proclaims, “IT’S SO HOT!” They go for a walk, and quickly bump into a nice, young woman with a couple of jugs of the most refreshing beverage one could ever hope to consume on a blistering afternoon on New Arrakis (formerly known as Earth)… Agua de Jamaica! Clearly, their universe was altered that day.
Do summer right. Get yourself some Agua de Jamaica, out now on Tru Thoughts.