Dusty Oliveira, also known as El Dusty, is a producer and DJ who has fostered the birth of Cumbia Electronica music, which combines the sounds of Latin music with the heavy bass boosting of Electronica. Born and based in Corpus Christi, Dusty shares a virtual conversation with Adrian Quesada, an Austin-based producer, multi-instrumental artist, and Grammy winner. Before the pandemic, Adrian and fellow musician Eric Burton had been touring around the world as the Black Pumas.
Over the course of the pandemic, many of us have found entertainment and comfort in the arts: film, literature, music. We’ve taken up needlepoint, tried our hand at photography, or finally learned to play the guitar. Despite the many curveballs 2020 has thrown at us, artistic creativity has flourished this year, inspiring the world with new ideas and stories.
This month, Dusty Oliveira and Adrian Quesada sat down on a Zoom call where they talked about how the pandemic has affected the music industry—especially in regards to live shows and touring—and how they’ve been keeping busy while at home. After both being on the road for so long, adapting to their new normal has been both challenging and enlightening, giving them time to slow down and reflect on their past success, as well as focus on new projects for the future. Both have invested in new hobbies, but essentially it all comes back to creating new beats for these two Texas musicians.
Dusty Oliveira: First off, the Black Pumas have been killing it. In the past two years, you’ve opened a new studio, were nominated for a Grammy. The Black Pumas is a fairly new band. When did you guys finish your album and start promoting it?
Adrian Quesada: Eric Burton and I, we started the Pumas album in 2017. We didn’t intend to be a live band at first. We were doing studio collaboration. I work on a lot of stuff, like I’m sure you do too. People come through your studio and you write a few songs. Eric and I had so much chemistry, we were banging out songs. We decided to play them live for a month and see how it went. There was so much interest around the world, and it was the craziest experience of my life in music. So we decided to keep doing it. We started touring, the album came out, and we became a live act. As fun as it is traveling the world to play sold out shows, we never had time to soak it in. We were just going, going, going. When the pandemic hit, it was the first time that Eric and I could reflect on everything that was happening. It was the first time we soaked it all in, truly.
DO: What are you doing to stay busy and sane during quarantine?
AQ: We didn’t realize it was going to last this long. We’ve been in the studio a lot. At the end of the day, being in here creating, writing, it’s my ultimate happy place as a musician. It’s been kind of bittersweet, adapting to all of this. It’s incredible playing on tour—it keeps my mind off things. Now, when I start thinking about things, start getting stressed out, I just come into the studio and it gets my mind off of it.
DO: I feel that. Right before the pandemic, me and the homies were on tour. We’d just got off tour with Tribal Seats, a heavy touring reggae band, and were headed for Colorado. Touring is our bread and butter. I was just living on the road when the pandemic happened, and we got locked down. I live in downtown Corpus Christi, and a couple weeks after I moved back, we were able to get back into the studio. I’ve been trying to keep busy, but it’s been challenging because I can’t invite just anybody to come out here. We started taking on a couple clients to record. And we’ve been working on my album. I’ve been sending stuff to different people. I’ve got a guy out in Jamaica that’s been linking me with different artists out there. I’ll send him a beat and a little bit of cash, and he’ll go and find me a feature. It’s been pretty rad!
At the end of the day, being in here creating, writing, it’s my ultimate happy place as a musician.
AQ: That’s one of the things I’ve liked about 2020. It’s forced us to embrace talking on the computer and doing collaborations remotely. Because you can’t physically interact much with the people around you, you email someone in Jamaica and connect around the world. It’s made people get creative.
DO: I also think that people who wouldn’t have responded to your DM before are now responding. They’re like, “I’m just here at home, let’s hear what this little dude in Texas has got.” I’m sure you get people hitting you up, wanting to come to your studio.
AQ: It’s amazing how quickly you can connect with social media. I remember back in the day, before Instagram, you’d have to find their website, email them, hope that email actually gets to them. But now: I got a DM a week ago from a guy who lives in Puerto Rico and has a studio out there. Five minutes later, I have his album in my email. It’s amazing! I like that what’s happening with the pandemic is forcing us to reach out to other people.
I’ll hijack the interview and ask you a question. Did you try any new hobbies during quarantine?
DO: I got into plants. My wife has always been into plants. She’s always had them in the house. It’s beautiful with live plants around—all that green. When we were stuck inside, we built a rooftop deck and put all our plants out there—it’s perfect! We have this little cactus that I stole off the side of the road in Arizona. There were these thin cactus plants all over the place, so I dug one up and brought it home. It stayed the same size for over a year. When we moved it to the deck, it just started growing like crazy! After I saw that plant grow, I was hooked. It’s having a goal, you know. I want to keep this thing alive and flourishing. When I see someone has a bunch of plants, it tells me that person cares for stuff.
AQ: I feel like I need that in my studio. I always look around and think, “Man, I don’t have any plants.”
DO: I also like to collect nostalgia. Recently, I was going through my old comic books. It’s really cool that we have this time to go back and dig into vintage stuff. The Black Pumas has a vintage vibe—I heard it the first time I listened to you. There’s a certain tone to a lot of your songs. It’s like when I listen to old records, and it reminds me of my mom and a time where we were all jamming together. Your music has that nostalgic feel.
AQ: I think it’s because of the music we grew up on, that’s why my songs sound like that. The music that had the biggest impact on me growing up was hip-hop, and in that era when I was listening to it, it was all samples. That’s just what sounds good to me.
DO: What about you—what are you doing to cope with the pandemic? Any new hobbies?
AQ: One big thing for me has been exercise. Now that the days have kind of slowed down a bit, there’s time to do little things that we couldn’t do before. We go on bike rides. My wife takes our daughter on a walk every morning. For me, I tried to pick up more hobbies during quarantine, but it always came back to what I really want to do with my free time: I want to make a beat. I tried to draw, paint, learn French with my daughters. But ultimately, I want to make beats. I realized that, not only am I blessed that it’s my career, but it’s my favorite hobby too.
DO: What about new music? Have you been checking out any new stuff?
AQ: Since I go on bike rides every day, I use that opportunity to listen to new music. At the beginning of quarantine, I was in a major hip-hop rabbit hole. Then I was discovering new contemporary bands that I’ve always wanted to check out.
I love how people are still out there playing their music, even though touring isn’t happening right now—they’re playing on Instagram Live instead. Hip-hop musicians in particular are doing battles on Instagram. No concerts? No problem. You have Instagram Live, just turn on your phone. The hip-hop world has always been the most willing to adapt. That’s one of the things I love about hip-hop.
Photos courtesy of Dusty Oliveira (left), Adrian Quesada (right)