That cold snap blowing through Miami last week had less to do with Mother Nature than with the specter of José Garcia-Pedrosa returning to his old fiefdom as Miami Beach's City Manager. Thankfully Beach law-enforcement figures (quietly aided by local arts advocates) were able to intercede and convince the Miami Beach City Commission to reject Garcia-Pedrosa as a candidate for that currently vacant position.
Will the Afro-Cuban All Stars play Miami? Not if José Garcia-Pedrosa can help it
Still, considering that Garcia-Pedrosa (now a private attorney) has his sights set on the City of Miami mayorship, it's worth noting the havoc the man has wrought on South Florida's cultural scene, and just what his return to (ahem) "public service" would mean.
The Los Van Van brouhaha of October serves as a sobering reminder that when it comes to Miami's music world, little has changed regarding el exilio's 40-year stranglehold on the arts, at least in Miami proper. Over on Miami Beach, however, the power brokers fortuitously are much too concerned with real estate speculation and the prospect of a supermodel catfight to give much thought to fanning the last few embers of Cold War hysteria. The upshot of this has been the carving out of a cultural DMZ, a breathing space where the cream of Cuba's musical crop can showcase their talents onstage, as they already do in the rest of the nation.
The return of Garcia-Pedrosa would put an end to all of that. Although he never tires of whipping out his Harvard credentials in the hope of differentiating himself from the community-college dropouts presently running amok at city hall, as a learned philosopher once opined: If it walks like a duck, and it talks like a duck, it's a duck. And despite Garcia-Pedrosa's insistent diploma brandishing, he's proved time and again during his previous tenure as city manager that when it comes to matters of the arts, there's little difference between him and the more obviously Neanderthal types manning the megaphones and AM airwaves of the Cuban-exile community. His single-handed squashing of Cuban singer Rosita Fornes's 1996 gig at the Beach's Jackie Gleason Theater is but the most public example of this archaic ideological bent. (It's also worth noting that at that time, Beach Commissioner Marty Shapiro gleefully supported Garcia-Pedrosa on this censorship issue, a sobering reminder to anyone mourning Shapiro's failed campaign for mayor.)
Consider it a sure bet as well that the Afro-Cuban All Stars (sister act to the Buena Vista Social Club), which currently is booking U.S. dates for its upcoming winter tour, would find itself forcibly shut out of a Jackie Gleason concert stop by a Garcia-Pedrosa administration. There's also little doubt that his return as city manager would be followed by the mysterious appearance of overzealous zoning inspectors at Beach nightclubs holding Cuban shows. Just ask the owners of Timba, who have their own inspection horror stories to tell as a result of being the most recent mainland club to challenge the Cuban cultural boycott.
Garcia-Pedrosa certainly has his share of well-meaning supporters, many of whom cite his Mussoliniesque ability to make the shuttle buses run on time, as well as the man's obvious relish for going toe-to-toe with the Billion Dollar Sandbar's landed gentry -- an attitude best displayed in a 1997 city hall meeting that ended with Garcia-Pedrosa having the police forcibly remove hotelier Mera Rubell from his office. The fact remains, however, anyone concerned with the continued efforts to nudge South Florida's arts scene out of the dark ages would do well to keep a close eye on Garcia-Pedrosa's ongoing backroom wheeling and dealing, Ivy League diction and all.
Chastened survivor of Miami's altrock class of 1996, Amanda Green recently began attracting positive blurbs in the New York City press, drawing praise for her off-kilter folk-pop moves and quirkily intelligent lyrics on display at several downtown shows. Only problem is, these "next big thing" critical notices were for a different Amanda Green, one eerily operating under the same creative m.o. as Miami's homegrown version.
Cornered after finishing her opening slot at last month's Mike Watt concert at the Fu-Bar (during which she ran through a syrupy Tori Amos-ized solo piano cover of Television's "Guiding Light," as well as several tunes from her new CD The Nineteen Hundreds), Miami's Amanda Green was not only untroubled, but practically magnanimous over any name-related career confusion.
"There's room enough for both of us," Green chirped with a smile, adding slyly, "unless she starts doing mysongs." The suggestion of a lucrative legal settlement -- of the type ex-Miami rock outfit Muse received from the Madonna-helmed Maverick label upon ceding its moniker to a British Muse -- was met with an incredulous look. "Sue her? I couldn't do that!" scoffed Green. "Besides, her dad's last name is reallyGreen."