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Bowl of Soul

This year's fest tastes a lot like the Eighties

Okay, so there wasn't an overwhelming shout-out over the music on Memorial Day weekend; maybe the eclectic mix for the second annual Soul Beach Music Festival this weekend will ease some eardrums. The list of performers runs the gamut from Cameo, Luther Vandross, and Morris Day and the Time to Biz Markie, Angie Stone, comedian J. Anthony Brown, Alicia Keys, and Musiq.

"We feel that mixing things up is important," said Tony Rome, one of the producers of Soul Beach, set to run June 5-9 at Miami's American Airlines Arena. "The current group of soul artists today have been influenced by the past, and that allows us to celebrate their accomplishments while giving respect to the great artists of the past." That is not a new concept: Oldies stations generally sound better than hits stations for that reason alone. When you have thirty years of hit music to choose from rather than six months' worth, you can't help but sound better. That's one reason last year's inaugural Soul Beach was so successful. It's also why the organizers are expecting this one to be just as good. While other retro phenomena -- swing, for example -- tend to be faddish and burn out quickly, soul and funk music has long ago demonstrated its staying power.

"Take for example Miles Davis's Kind of Blue," says Rome. "This CD has a 40-year lifespan and is still selling about 5000 copies a week. That is because great music endures." And soul and funk, like the blues before it, permeates everything in modern musical culture. There are the sneaker ads with a Seventies-styled Vince Carter moving to a Bootsy Collins soundtrack, the blaxploitation spoof movies like Undercover Brother. Rappers such as OutKast and Snoop Dogg advertise their Mothership connections with pride, while young singer-songwriters like Keys, Bilal, and D'Angelo channel old-school geniuses Prince and Donny Hathaway. And contrary to public belief, the golden age of funk and soul continued well into the Eighties, said Rome. Look at the influence someone like Michael Jackson has had on artists like Ginuwine, Usher, and even Mystikal, who has been tipping his hat to the Gloved One in his stage shows since his early days.

"We brought the Gap Band here last year, and they had one of the best shows of the festival," says Rome. "For the longest time, people wouldn't give Eighties funk artists their props. But now the music of that era is proving to be as strong as the Seventies. Someone like Prince -- I mean, if you don't recognize him as one of this country's musical treasures, something is wrong with you."

The festival is actually a continuation of the famous Caribbean soul festivals hosted by comedian Sinbad. After he ended his involvement in the series, Rome and his partners started looking into the possibility of taking it over. "It all started with a conversation I had with my partners, Andre Wiseman and Mark Adkins," remembers Rome. "They were the principal players in the Sinbad festival, and we all felt that, even though Sinbad had discontinued it, there was still a great opportunity to provide an event like it."

The first of the new Soul Beach festivals was held last year at the Miami Arena, with three nights of music (this year's has two). That lineup included artists like Jill Scott, the Isley Brothers, India.Arie, Frankie Beverly, and Maze. The festival was much like the ones Sinbad put together, but with its own distinct flavor. "We are creating our own tradition, " says Rome. "For people who dug the original Sinbad festivals this is just a continuation of that vibe. For people who didn't, it is a chance to come and indulge your love of great music."

 
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