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Universal language. Universal language. Now that Music Fest Miami appears to be here to stay -- a solid annual event -- it's time to trot out the old truism again. Nothing brings people together like music. Just to put the old adage to the test, Shake conducted a brief survey of the artists performing at Bayfront Park this Labor Day weekend to see how much each knows about the other.
The headliner for the Sunday show is soul diva Patti LaBelle. Being a soul diva, LaBelle has no time to take a ridiculous quiz for an obscure weekly newspaper, so we can only guess how many other artists on the Music Fest Miami bill Miss LaBelle may know. But hers was definitely the name most recognized by the other acts -- in fact the only name recognized by most acts -- so that counts for something.
Al Jarreau, who is also a headliner, but not a soul diva, dialed up Shake directly, scatting and singing "It's me and I'm in love again" before even saying hello. So he gets a point for correctly identifying himself. He did not, however, know anything about Music Fest Miami at all -- probably because he and his band will be performing the Friday evening before the outdoor festival at Jazz-matazz: The Mayors Ball at the Miami Arena for an audience of politicos, festival supporters, and women in elaborate hats. Once the event was described to him, though, Jarreau was full of enthusiasm. "I think that's brilliant," he buzzed. "The kids only get MTV and the beat -- hip-hop and rap -- and they don't even know anything else exists. I wish I could bring that festival everywhere." Does he know Patti LaBelle? Of course. Gisselle? "No, but she sounds wonderful."
Which is okay, because Gisselle doesn't know Jarreau, either. The merengue vixenis a headliner and may well be a diva, but she is no encyclopedia of soul. On Patti LaBelle, she confesses, "I can identify her. I know who she is. I couldn't exactly tell you what songs she sings." Gisselle promises that she herself will sing a few R&B tunes, even a few songs in English, as a preview of the R&B/tropical fusion she has been working on in the studio with producer Estefano.
Which R&B singers does she like? Well, all of them. Name a couple. "Well, speaking of Latinos, how about [fellow Puerto Rican and former Son by Four lead singer] Angel Lopez?" Anyone else? "... 'N Sync? Backstreet Boys?" Next question. How about Third World?"What?" How about reggae? "I love it. Those of us in the music business have to understand that music is ..." Oh, no, here it comes, " ... music is a universal language." Ummm, you were queen of Calle Ocho last spring. Have you ever participated in an event with this much musical variety? "No. This is good, because maybe someone will come to hear music they like and they'll end up liking something they hear."
Obi Pindling hopes they'll end up liking his Bahamian soca and junkanoo band Visage. A fan of Seventies and Eighties R&B, Pindling says he knows the music of Patti LaBelle and Al Jarreau "big-time," but otherwise admits: "I know [Jamaican reggae act] Third World and [Trini soca outfit] Krossfyah, and I don't know anyone else."
Does Pindling hear much salsa or merengue? "Not very much at all, salsa music is just starting to grow in popularity in the Bahamas because we have a lot of interaction now with Cuba and the Dominican Republic." How about Haitian compas? "I've heard of Zin, because we have a large Haitian population in the Bahamas, but I haven't heard Zin here in the Bahamas." Why are people in the Caribbean more familiar with African-American music than they are with each others' songs? The answer is simple: "Everybody in the Caribbean has access to BET."
Who did the best on the quiz? Not surprisingly, Music Fest organizer Michelle Spence. But however fluent she may be, Spence is not surprised to learn that the artists she booked struggle a little with the not-so-universal language. "That's what I think is great about a multicultural festival," she laughs. "You bring all these genres together and even [the artists] learn a lot about each other."