The Hometown Discount

The international cadre of MCs who record for Botanica del Jíbaro are heroes everywhere on Earth — except Miami

Gieseking, a DJ, met some of the label's artists in Berlin. He was transfixed by their raw sound and related to their tales of escape from oppression. "I found my life in this music in 1990 as a DJ," he explains. "It came after life had been very hard for me as a kid in the Eighties, because I was born in the ödemocratic republic' of East Germany."

At any one time, it's nearly impossible to find all of the members of the BDJ collective on the same continent. While New Times was researching this article, for example, Castro was in Tokyo. Producer Deviant was in Peru, having just arrived there after a few weeks in Brazil. Soarse and Manuvers had just returned from a recording stint in Chile.

Deviant (real name: Robert Sawyer) is one of the few of this constellation not born to Latin American immigrants (his father is American, his mother Jamaican). But he's long been fascinated by Latin culture and has traveled extensively, researching, as it were, for his ambitious LP, due to drop later this year.

"That album will contain my interpretations of various genres from the Caribbean, Latin American, and Afro-Latin styles and hopefully vocals in English, Spanish, Quechua, and Portuguese," he says. "I also want to complete an album of dub and dub-influenced songs, kind of an ode to my mother's homeland."

In Chile, Soarse and Manuvers laid down the basic tracks for a project called Metralleta, a collaboration with Chilean MC Mustafa Yoda. The lyrics will be entirely in Spanish.

Soarse — a native of Medellin, Colombia, who grew up in Miami — is also slowly completing his debut, a magnum opus to be called Third World Prophecies. Switching comfortably between English and Spanish as the mood strikes, Soarse layers his metaphorical lyrics over melancholy riffs and laid-back jazz beats.

Unlike nearly all other labels, BDJ doesn't sign artists to contracts. The business arrangement is more informal. "Steve [Castro] is on the tip where it's like, 'If you wanna release something, I believe in your music enough to do it'," Soarse explains. "He pays for the production, pressing, and distribution. He also finds people to fly us out for international shows. That's what Steve is really good at, making connections."

"Most [artists] approach me because they think they have something to say in their music that fits with the label," Castro says. "Miami's underground is small but strong, so once you are in the network, you just connect."

Releases are distributed according to these connections as well and are targeted according to the preferences of various global tastemakers. Some releases are exclusive to one country and will never appear domestically. Stateside, a number of the albums are distributed by Counterflow Recordings, also based in South Florida.They can be ordered online by anyone from Project:Mooncircle's manufacturer.

It's a slow road to superstardom, to say the least. But the members of the BDJ camp don't mind working, even if some of that "work" is the kind that involves punching a clock.

"I love Miami. When people ask me where I'm from, I say Miami," Soarse says. "I'm not gonna lie to you: I would love to sell something in the States. I care about what the people think. But I don't care if Mansion's not booking me. I don't care about that shit. I mean, I would like to sell records, but I'm still going to keep making music that's true to me, regardless."

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