"The Fiesta de Miami will be the biggest festival of them all," boasts Oscar Alvarez of Eden Rock Promotions. No small claim in a town that hosts the annual Calle Ocho, officially the largest outdoor festival in the world in terms of both attendance and square feet. "Well, the biggest and the best in terms of quality," backtracks Alvarez. "All the other festivals are dedicated to a specific national group. Calle Ocho is Cuban. Then there's Colombian Independence Day, and Dominican Independence, and Exponica, and so on. We want to make the end of the year a time for a party where there is no difference among the ethnic groups, where everyone is just part of the same city."
Even if Alvarez does seem to be forgetting that just under half the city's citizens do not hail from any country in Latin America, with so many festivals looking back to lands left behind, a party that calls Miami home seems long overdue. Of course feeling at home in Miami only rarely means being born here. To get that homegrown feeling, Miami-style, the Fiesta de Miami features artists from all over Latin America who have, at one time or another, lived right here.
Miami Beach resident Olga Tañon headlines the celebration, bringing to town the two-hour concert extravaganza she recorded in Orlando this past August and released just this week on the CD and DVD, Olga Viva, Viva Olga. Tañon is the ideal spokeswoman for our town's peculiar local qualities. A Puerto Rican native, she first made a name for herself by belting out Dominican merengues. The deep-voiced diva then set out to conquer the rest of the continent, releasing a pop ballad, a Tex-Mex love song, a remake of a salsa classic, and a crossover stab at the soul-inspired boogaloo. Rafo Muñiz, executive producer of both the disc and the DVD, sums up the appeal of Olga Live in unique Miami-speak: "Her choreography is muy fashion!" Backing up that choreography is accomplished jazz great Humberto Ramirez, whose musical direction and mean trumpet lend Tañon a legitimacy often missing in Latin pop. Olga Live, whether recorded or really, really live, delivers a spectacle whose uneven biculturalism and showy musicianship is muy Miami.
Rey Ruiz is another headliner who lives in town. As a Cuban living in Miami, Ruiz says, "Sometimes it's easy to direct ourselves to other Cubans as if we were the only ones here. But there are so many other groups too. And I don't have any objection, because wherever we're from, we're all family. I feel blessed because all the Latinos in Miami have responded to my music." Ruiz is currently working on a new disc, which he sees as an opportunity "to try out a new concept, because sometimes you can feel like you're drowning in salsa, salsa, salsa." That record will be released early next year. In the meantime the audience at Fiesta de Miami had better prepare to swim, as Ruiz, like Tañon, plans a full concert of his suave, romantic salsa hits.
In addition to Tañon and Ruiz, Fiesta de Miami will feature Los Adolescentes from Venezuela, Los Gemelos from Colombia, and Oro Solido from the Dominican Republic. Early in the day, lesser-known acts will round out this musical effort at uniting a city. Ricardo Cantizano, a Dominican raised in Venezuela and living in Miami, imitates stars from around the Latin world, such as Julio Iglesias, Rafael, and José Luis Rodriguez. The Mariachis Mora-Arriaga, a family act of fifteen brothers and sisters who put the Osmond family to shame, moved to Miami from Acapulco twelve years ago. The siblings will show off their modern mariachi style, which ranges from Mexican classics such as "Cielito Lindo" to classical French airs to a full rendition of "Hello, Dolly" in homage to Louis Armstrong.
The shape-shifting and style-sampling of so many Latin acts says a lot about the commercial desire to hit as many music markets as possible with a single artist. On a less cynical note, this survey of styles also says something about what it might sound like for all of us to be what promoter Oscar Alvarez calls "part of the same city."