Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
Imagine having to perform your job in the middle of a party music blasting, people talking and dancing, buzzed eyes focused on you. That's exactly what artist Kiki Valdes does he paints live to music at events, setting his brush strokes to the tempo. "He uses the energy from the event around him and focuses it on the canvas," says Luis André Gazitua, president of Next in Line, a local networking organization for young professionals, at whose events Valdes has appeared. "He's a firecracker; he just goes for it." The young Cuban-American artist has painted at the Biltmore Hotel alongside Latin Grammy-nominated Locos Por Juana, at Princeton University for the Princeton and Harvard Cuba Conference, and at the B.E.D. club/restaurants in Miami and New York. His style taps into Thirties and Forties avant-garde Cuban art. "There's passion in the person and artwork. When he paints, it's like a fire," adds Gazitua, who owns one of Valdes's "Medusa" paintings, along with two others by the artist. Inspiration for the Medusa comes from a girl Valdes knows. "She has a strong stare. You can't look at her too long," the artist says. "She's like Medusa. When you go into the cave, she looks pretty from the distance, but as you get closer, she's deceiving." Valdes, who is actually good friends with his muse, is all about the transformation of images. When he paints live, he starts with one image, which evolves into something else as the music bumps and the evening progresses. Just when you really come to love the image on the canvas, Valdes messes with you, splashing color on it and starting over. The experience is all-consuming for both him and the viewer. "With him," says Gazitua, "it's hard to separate artwork from the person."
The members of Pretty Ricky should be feeling pretty damn good about themselves. After all, it's not every day that a Miami pop group gets to hit number one on the Billboard album charts (they held it for a week). The four brothers Baby Blue, Spectacular, Pleasure, and Slick Em have been working for this moment their entire lives, playing virtually every venue in South Florida since 1997. All of that hard work started paying off when the group's 2004 ditty to the thrills of heavy petting, "Grind with Me," became the most requested song in the history of Miami's Power 96. Soon after, Pretty Ricky signed a deal with Atlantic Records, and this year released the top-selling album, Late Night Special. Now the group is riding high with the hit "On the Hotline," a delicious, slow-burning R&B-meets-hip-hop jam with a cool 2007 twist: a story of phone sex with a beautiful lady met on MySpace. This is canny subject matter for a group that understands the best pop should always be fun, catchy, and, above all, up to date with the latest craze.
We've all heard it before: "There is no music scene in Miami." Although the 305 may not be a band-manufacturing machine like Chicago, even elitist naysayers can't argue that the Magic City has its share of laudable live acts. The ubiquitous Spam Allstars have garnered a loyal following playing Afro-Cuban jazz, while the tight-knit Down Home Southernaires appeal to throngs with their indie-pop sensibilities. These and other local bands span a variety of genres including rock, hip-hop, electronica, and more. So what is the one factor most of these groups have in common? They are mostly men. Good thing the all-girl trio known as AKA is around to represent for the ladies. Since 2004 these gals have spread their cute-but-tough look and infectious sound across Miami-Dade's expansive borders. Lately the band has limited its live shows to focus on its first album, Break Free. In the meantime, AKA manages to play a few gigs a month and work on new material. The group is made up of lead vocalist Lori Garrote on guitar, Natalie Martinez on bass, and Nabedi Osorio on drums. Their pop-punk sound is both energizing and haunting; their appeal is reinforced by powerful singing and high-powered beats. An undeniable influence from the likes of Green Day and Alanis Morissette is audible when the threesome drops its sonic bomb. For those in doubt of AKA's staying power, Garrote proudly assures, "We're going strong."
Miami based T-Vice is the undisputed king of the new konpa, a deliciously melodious Haitian tropical blend infused with American pop influences like hip-hop and R&B. Founding members Roberto Martino and Reynaldo Martino have been doing their thing since the mid-Nineties, when they moved to Miami and reunited with their father, Robert Martino, leader of popular Haitian band Top-Vice. Naming their group after their father's, the Martino brothers and T-Vice would soon earn a large following, thanks to a series of innovative pop albums that rejuvenated the konpa movement with English-language lyrics. Hot collaborations with luminaries like Wyclef Jean and dancehall superstar Buju Banton (on the song "Party By The Sea") have turned the T-Vice squad into the new ambassadors of Haitian music. And while they travel the world, bringing their audiences delight with solid konpa hits like "4 Las," there's no greater joy than watching the boys let loose in their adopted hometown. Banm T-Vice Mwen, indeed.
In the Eighties, Carl and Carol Jacobs were the lead singers of the band Shandileer, and they were stars on the calypso scene in Trinidad and Tobago. They came up alongside luminaries like David Rudder and Charlie's Roots, in an era when calypso was still about lyrical content and pushing the music into new forms of expression. Their hit songs "Pressure," "Luv Up," "Scandal," "Savage," and "We Wanna Live" were popular on Caribbean airwaves. But calypso is a fickle and seasonal music. "Home is a sweet place, but it's a small place," Carl Jacobs says. "By the end, we had done every club, every party." To provide for their growing family, the Jacobses moved to Miami. "We just fell in love with Miami," Carl says. "It's like a home far away a home with green money. It didn't take me long to get work here. Because and I don't want to brag the other calypso bands that we met here were on a little kind of tourist level. But we were a professional unit. Our sound was very different." Carol and some of the kids have moved back home to Trinidad, but Carl's residency at Monty's Raw Bar in Coconut Grove has continued. If you stop by the often-bustling waterfront eatery on Friday nights, or almost any time Saturdays and Sundays, you'll find the troubadour with the distinctive green eyes and husky voice entertaining the public. He's now 54 years old, and his hair is turning gray. But his voice is still as unforgettable and resonant as ever. He doesn't play his own hits as often, with his repertoire consisting mostly of calypsofied cover songs. But he plans to start incorporating more of his own material into the weekend shows. He stays young by collaborating with the new generation of calypsonians. His latest album features a duet with Maximus Dan, and a recent experience during this year's Carnival in Trinidad made him realize how much he still means at home: "I played at Machel Montano's big fete this year, and so many young people came up to me after, calling me 'Uncle Carl' and telling me how much they loved my performance. It was so surprising to me. It really is one culture, you know. One country, one music."
You're not officially a punk rock band until you come up with an offensive moniker. A year ago Mekago NT officially joined the club when these Miami thrashers decided on a name that literally translates to "I crap on you" in Spanish. Yet the name is appropriate. Mekago NT'S music sounds like a cacophonous amalgam of frenzied guitar riffs, banshee wailings, and the kinds of groans, grunts, and moans usually heard coming out of the men's bathroom at Churchill's Pub, which is coincidentally the venue where you are most likely to catch Mekago NT performing.