By David Rolland
By David Von Bader
By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
Let's be clear on what kind of town this is.
This is a place with great recording studios, phenomenal producers, and engineering wizards, so if you're a big star and you've got a hefty budget, you can lay down tracks here as good or better than anywhere else. Doesn't matter if it's Latin pop, hip-hop, techno, compas, reggae, rock, or Gregorian chants.
This is also the place with the highest concentration of Latin media outlets in the world. So if you're a big star in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, or even Califas and you want your face on every gossip rag in La Paz and your video on every TV screen in Tegucigalpa, you can make one stop here and all the cameras in the hemisphere will come to you.
This is most of all an immigrant town, a Caribbean and Latin-American town, so if you're a big star in Haiti, Jamaica, Colombia, Argentina, or even Cuba, you can drop by two or three times a year on your tours across your respective nation's diaspora, pack in homesick crowds, and pick up a few greenbacks to take back home.
But if you're not yet a big star -- if you're a musician with nothing but a song and a dream -- and you would still like to eat every single day, well, you're probably going to have to leave.
Do the math: This is the poorest major city in the United States, over fourteen hours by tour bus from the next sizable metropolis, and compared with megacities clustered in the Northeast and on the West Coast, there just aren't that many people here to go to shows anyway.
"I've got to go someplace else to get work," sighs Ladybug (Tanya Velazquez), a singer-songwriter from the Bronx who came to Miami seven years ago. Voted Best Rock Vocalist in New Times last year, the singing beetle now plans to head back to the Big Apple at the end of this month. "I've met a lot of incredibly talented people here," she says, handing over a brand-new copy of her indie CD, Plug Me In. "As far as music goes, Miami is one of the best-kept secrets." A secret, it seems, even from club owners. "The venues that have been around have been great, but they all close down," the Lady laments. "I haven't found it to be a music town."
Neither have Catty Tasso and Josh Sonntag, singer-songwriter and lead guitarist of the band Moxi, who helped Ladybug record Plug Me In in their home studio. Also marked by the New Times Best of Curse (winning this year's Best Rock Band), Tasso, Sonntag, and drummer Frank Martinez are loading up the furniture and the dogs for a one-way trip to Califor-ni-yay. Like Ladybug, Sonntag arrived in the Magic City seven years ago, with the Latin rock band Sofia. "We thought that Miami would be a good place for Latin rock," explains the talented axeman. "Our first impression was a big event outside Spec's. Pepe Alva was playing with a bunch of other bands. We said, 'Even the record stores are supporting Latin rock.' So we came down and found out the truth. The record stores aren't supporting us. Spec's says rock in Spanish won't sell."
A recent trip to East Los opened the band's eyes. "Every gig that we played [drew] 400 people," Sonntag marvels. "Every club had a great sound system. [Club owners] treat you with respect. [Fans] shell out $23 for a show and they still shell out another $10 to buy our CD." Although few local stores carry Moxi's self-titled debut, the disc is readily available in every Tower record store in Los Angeles.
"Miami's a good town," Sonntag concedes, "it's cheap and comfortable. You can get too comfortable." And what's better about the opposite coast? "We can work for real," says Sonntag. "Here we've been working, we've been working our little butts off, but it's been an uphill battle because there's not really an infrastructure." He pauses to consider the buzz around Miami's Latin rock scene generated, in part, by bands like his own. "It's starting," he admits. "It's out there. But it's been starting since I got here."