Hot for Four

All local bands sound the same and it don't rain in Miami in the summertime

Raw B. Jae
Like Chris DeAngelis, Raw B. Jae has had a tough time putting the right band together. And as with DeAngelis, part of the problem is an unwillingness to compromise a sound that isn't in vogue.

"It's live rap," he notes. "The labels haven't been into it because we don't play Miami bass, even though we're Miami- based. No one's doing it live in the studio. Some, like Arrested Development, are doing it live on-stage, but not in the studio.

"We're too musical for our own good down here. Hip-hop is all cliches. All the same beats are used over and over. Change the tempo, change the rap, but it's the same beat. We make our own beats with a real drummer and real musicians. We're into creating, not sampling."

True to his word, Raw B. Jae and his posse (Javier Rivera on drums, John Babl on bass, Doug Michels on trumpet, Angel Cerdeiras on percussion, Edgar Inniss on tambourine and backing vocals, and Mel Morley on keyboards) in concert are a wild melting pot of sounds, from KC to Hendrix to Motown to Coltrane to Sly Stone. The common denominator is an irresistible groove, the kind of pumping, slamming funk that shakes the vampires from the rafters of a rock club like the Square at 2:00 a.m. on a Monday morning and propels them to dance.

It's the kind of music that requires commitment. You have to live it to play it. "I wanna play music until I die," says Raw B. "When my thing is over, when I'm like 50, too old to perform, I wanna produce. Like Quincy Jones. I'm always slightly miserable, and I will be until I make it."

Nil Lara and Beluga Blue
At a recent Miami Rocks showcase, a certain music scribe happened to rub shoulders with a coterie of major-label A&R people. The label scouts disagreed about everything from the weather to the quality of the bands performing at the showcase. But the one thing they all decried was the absence of a band that really melded Miami's Cuban heritage with American rock music.

Unfortunately, Nil Lara and Beluga Blue were not featured performers at that event.

Lara is as close to a synthesis of Afro-Cuban roots and American rock as anyone is likely to get. He is to this area what Los Lobos is to the Southwest A a prodigiously talented crossover artist at home in both his native and adopted idioms. You can't grasp the full potential of Latin rock until you've seen Nil Lara and Beluga Blue at the top of their game, working some normally reserved Anglo hangout into a sweaty, hip-shaking, shirt-soaking frenzy. Who else would have the audacity to serve up Pink Floyd's "The Wall" with a Latin beat?

"I listened to a lot of Venezuelan folk music and salsa as a kid," explains Lara, who was born in the U.S.A. to Cuban parents. "When I got to Miami, it was like, 'Pink Floyd? What's that?' I loved it."

While he has no agenda ("I just play instruments that I like, and write what I feel like writing"), Lara does try to stay close to his roots. No sequencing.

A lot of people remember Lara and Beluga Blue keyboardist Albert Menendez from their days with celebrated local rock outfit KRU.

"We signed a development deal with EMI Nashville and made a tape for them, but they passed," explains Lara dispassionately. "It was a great experience, though. We were four egotistical young guys in our early twenties playing all the top clubs in New York A China Club, CBGB's, the Lone Star. I suppose we could have used some management."

In addition to the multitalented Menendez, Beluga Blue are Ricardo Suarez on bass, Varo on percussion, and Mark Vuksanovik (anyone remember Apex?) on lead guitar. Lara, a substitute teacher for Dade County when he isn't gigging, plays rhythm guitar, cuatro, and sings.

"I'm Cuban American. I play music that I like. It just happened. I didn't choose this life. It chose me.

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