Open Ears

Music editor comes out as ignoramus

Last Saturday, New Times celebrated its sweet fifteenth anniversary by coming out with some great big cakes, a few thousand friends, a few great bands and DJs, fabulous food from fifteen restaurants, and fifteen drag queens all dressed up as quinceañeras. If that last word lost you (Spanish for a Latin girl who comes of age at fifteen with a big bash), you haven't been in Miami long. Welcome to Miami: We're here, we're Latin, we're Haitian, we're West Indian, we're African American, we're Anglo (a.k.a. white), we're straight, we're queer, get used to it.

The icing on the cake for Shake was when in the midst of our giddy celebration, New Times hired a new music editor. Soon the only shakin' you'll see me do is on the dance floor, although I will still be writing plenty in these pages. I'm hoping my bosses will even let me have my original title back: Latin music maven. It's better to be a maven than an editor any day, I say. My mission when I agreed to edit for two years was to make the music section more reflective of Miami's almost inconceivably diverse music scene. I didn't come close to finishing the job, but in the next month or so we'll have someone new (and very exciting) to carry on. I'll let him introduce himself when he gets here.

Over the past fifteen years, New Times has survived a number of music editors and an even larger number of music editor candidates. In just the past three years, I've seen many of them flee, bewildered by the seemingly obscure genres of music that somehow manage to draw thousands -- and in the case of the Calle Ocho street festival, millions -- of fans. What's mainstream on the mainland is just one more option here, and often not even a very popular option at that.

This is intimidating because the whole music-writing gig is built on the expertise of the music critic. These are guys and gals who have dedicated their lives to cataloguing every belch of the Velvet Underground; to resurrecting the reputations of barely known alt.country songwriter/suicides; or to tracking down that rare Billy Eckstine platter sampled by the next-not-so-big-underground-hip-hop-phenomena. What do you write about when nothing around you sounds familiar?

Sometimes you just ignore it. There was an unfortunate period when the music section was edited by remote control from Tennessee and read a lot like a roots-rock rag circa 1973.

Sometimes you ghettoize it. We almost hired a fearless hip-hop reporter from a suburb of New York City a couple of years ago who threatened to exile all "world" music -- that is, all salsa, merengue, bachata, cumbia, vallenato, punta, reggae, dancehall, soca, compas, and rasin, as well as any Latin rock, Latin jazz, Haitian hip-hop, Jamaican R&B, and whatever else he didn't recognize -- to the Calendar section.

Sometimes you excoriate it, because if you can convince people it all sucks then it doesn't matter that you don't know enough to write about it. As far as I can tell, that's the motivation behind the periodic gratuitous rants by one of my dear colleagues against what he insists on calling rock en español. (Sure, there are plenty of uninteresting acts huddled under that enormous umbrella now known as Latin alternative music, just like we would find plenty of uninteresting acts if we lumped all U.S. rock, electronica, and hip-hop together in a category based solely on the language of the lyrics. Especially if you can't understand the lyrics. To diss Juanes as watered-down U2 is unwittingly to reveal that all you can hear is what you already know, unless I somehow missed the Irish outfit's cumbia and guasca albums.)

Sometimes you just admit that there's a whole lot out there you don't know. As frequent readers are aware, I've never let ignorance stand in Shake's way, committing some egregious errors in an effort to get out there and hear as much Miami music as possible. (My deepest apologies to Paquito D'Rivera, Volumen Cero, and others I've maligned over the years by misassigning their national origins.) No one can possibly know everything about trance and son and noise and dub and on and on and on. Still there's no better place than Miami to spend your life learning.

 
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