All Shook Up
Three years is not a long time. It takes decades -- half-centuries even -- to measure the careers of such musical treasures as singers Celia Cruz and Ibrahim Ferrer, pianist Bebo Valdes, and percussionists Tito Puente and Mongo Santamaria.
Three years is not a long time. Yet the passing of Puente in the summer of 2000 and of Santamaria here in Miami this past Sunday proves that three years is time enough to shift the rhythm of the universe. Their legacies live on, but their absence diminishes the very air we breathe.
In the life of a city as young as Miami, three years can be a very long time indeed. When Shake first began to survey the Magic City scene, it was a whole different soundscape.
The dreaded Cuba Ordinance was still the law of the land, effectively prohibiting local arts organizations from presenting Cuban artists and banishing the Latin Grammys from our town.
Timba was still the hottest thing in Greater Havana and the biggest timba star, Salsa Doctor Manolin, had not yet decided whether to stay in Miami or go back to the island.
Colombian producer Kike Santander was still toiling for Emilio Estefan, Jr., and Estefan Enterprises was still the only game in town. Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine were still the correct answer for "What is the Miami sound?"
Three years ago, Latin alternative musicians were only beginning to arrive as violence escalated in Colombia, strife broke out in Venezuela, and the economy tanked in Argentina. Now local rockers are as likely to complain about shitty sound systems and bad pay in Spanish as they are in English.
Lovers of indie-rock, garage rock, retro, and Brit-pop in English had nowhere to go. Poplife had just been conceived and Revolver wasn't even loaded. Fuácata was just a funny word for smacking somebody upside the head.
Debbie Ohanian's Starfish still hosted the best Cuban island acts and salsa dancers. Pepe Horta's Café Nostalgia was living its second life at the Forge. There was no Billboardlive. Down by the Miami River, there was no Club Rio ... oops, no Café Nostalgia III ... oops, no Skyy Lounge. And even if the sex shows, midgets, and fat ladies were long gone, the Warsaw was not a deli.
Thug Chris Paciello and partner Ingrid Casares ruled Beach nightlife from their club Liquid. But South Beach had not yet been declared a thug holiday. Fat Joe hadn't even started gettin' brains in the water on Memorial Day. The hip-hop nation had not yet encamped in the Hit Factory Criteria and Circle House studios. Video crews had not made Miami a second home.
And how could we know which music was good? The Source Awards didn't know us. The Latin Grammys didn't love us (and they still don't). The DanceStar Music Awards had not yet crossed the Atlantic. And MTV Latin America wasn't quite ready to put on a regionwide Latin American music video awards show.
Although Calle Ocho remains the biggest street festival in Miami (and the world), other festivals have morphed and multiplied in the last three years. The Argentine Festival was born. The Miami "Trini" Carnival split in two. The annual Haitian Compas Festival sprouted up to complement the more roots-oriented Rasin Festival. The annual Reggae Bash grew up to embrace other islands as the Caribbean Bash. And the county sponsored a musical festival featuring as many of Miami's cultures as possible: Music Fest Miami.
Miami's music industry has grown more powerful, with more activity from major labels and indies alike. There are more opportunities to hear more kinds of music than ever before.
Yet there are still not enough venues where it is possible to see or hear the band well. And just getting to any show is an endurance test, with first the traffic, then the interminable wait for the show to begin ("Whatever happened to doing two sets," sighed one industry veteran as he drove away from a show before it even began -- at midnight).
Singer/songwriter Jorge Villamizar, whose Grammy-nominated trio Bacilos is one of the best purveyors of the new Miami sound, sums up the city's growth. "Miami's Miami," Villamizar observes. "Loved and hated by everyone. This is a city in constant development."
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