Even if you have spent only a couple of nights out on the local music scene, your ears have likely taken in the smooth sounds of Buffalo Brown's guitar playing. He is one of Miami's most sought-after axe men, in a typical night traveling across town from gig to gig. But beyond this physical feat, there is something so spiritual and all-encompassing about him and his music that you might just call Buffalo omnipresent.
Colleagues contend it is his soft, soulful nature, the way his personality and performance go with the flow of whatever vibe is being created onstage or in the recording studio. With The Elastic Bond, for example, it's streetwise bossa nova/funk fusion. With Deblois, it's down-home folk rock. With Bacon Bits, it's tripped-out Latin. With Fitzroy, it's modern electro-dub reggae and hip-hop. With Angela Laino, it's all-out blues and soul. With Maryel Epps, it's a bit of that combined with gospel, R&B, and jazz. With Out of the Anonymous, it's all of the above, all about exploring the experimental. Finally, Buffalo's own In the Shadow of a Dream video imaging and soundscape project delves into loops of spacey music that take you right into the serendipitously philosophical dream state where his creative mind so often resides.
"I'm sure my personality and my music go together," Buffalo, born Plinio Sanchez, says with a serene grin as he sits at his kitchen table in Miami Beach. "I just have a soft demeanor or overall tone, and it's definitely in my music." But then the grin turns sly. "I'm definitely devilish when I play. I'm not feisty, but I am playful."
Buffalo Brown: Every Friday with The Elastic Bond at The Hemisphere Lounge at the Loews Hotel, 1601 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Show begins at 9 p.m.; admission is free. Ages 21+ with ID. 305-604-1601, www.myspace.com/theelasticbond. Every Wednesday with Angela Laino at The Florida Room at the Delano, 1685 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Show begins at 11 p.m.; admission is free. Ages 21+ with ID. 305-672-2000, www.delano-hotel.com. Solo set opening for Magen Melancholy, Saturday, January 17, at Sweat Records, 5505 NE Second Ave., Miami. Show begins at 9 p.m.; admission is free. 305-758-5862, ext. 5; www.sweatrecordsmiami.com
Buffalo rarely gives a direct answer to a question, but he is willing to consider New Times' theory that his musical adaptability is rooted in coping mechanisms he developed as the son of a strict evangelical pastor. At his father's funeral this past summer, members of Plinio Sanchez Sr.'s congregation paid homage to the preacher by using the same fiery preaching he had employed throughout his life. Many a boho artist might have been startled. But after the service, the dread-headed Buffalo stood next to his mother and gracefully embraced each attendant with a bear hug and a sincere word of appreciation.
"My presence at my dad's funeral was a form of self-expression, people asking questions about me, my life, my hair, if I'm part of a sect," reflects Buffalo, who no longer attends that church. So how does he cope with the culture clash? In typical Buffalo fashion, he addresses that notion with a riddle-filled question. "It's not a matter of giving up on pleasing people or self-expression. But if you can't be fully self-expressed, then how can you really be someone who pleases other people?"
From a young age, Buffalo's Dominican parents instilled in him a respect for the struggles and sacrifices they made as immigrants, as well as a deep desire to find the path to righteousness. In a subtle declaration of independence, Buffalo forged his path through music. When his parents forbade a young Buffalo from banging on the drums after 9 p.m., he latched onto his sister's guitar. As an adolescent, he taught himself almost every genre on the radio by strumming along to different stations and then consulting music theory books. Jazz was the only mystery he wasn't able to crack, so he took lessons for that.
After earning a bachelor's degree in journalism at FIU in 2002, Buffalo decided his first calling was not the word but the guitar. "I have more time to be objective, and in a way, I'm seeing multiple stories unfold," he says of being a guitarist. In fact that's one of the benefits of not taking center stage: "A leader doesn't really have the time to be that objective about what's happening in a group."
Local fusion artist Jason "Fitzroy" Jeffers marvels at his longtime friend and collaborator's ability to operate as the participant observer. "He's a musicologist," says Fitzroy, who used Buffalo's groovy guitar throughout his first album, Paradise Low. "Even if he doesn't recognize a genre, he can discern almost immediately where it comes from. He's entirely down for the adventure that music is and should be. He's the first person I play stuff for — my critical ear."
Singer-songwriter Deblois appreciates the way Buffalo can accompany her on guitar and occasionally back up vocals without ever sounding intrusive. "How easygoing can you get? He's got that musical sixth sense," she says.
Maryel Epps doesn't even let New Times finish its request for a comment about Buffalo before singing those same kinds of praises. "He's cool, respectful; he gives you your space and let's you do your thing. He can accompany you and then do a solo with a lot of soul; he's kindhearted, handsome, and instrumentally astute. I call him for every gig I am able to use him," she gushes.
Those accolades have kept Buffalo rocking steady on the local scene for the past four years. "A month finds me jumping from genre to genre, from folk and blues and country to rock, funk, and experimental, and then here and there something more — be it African soukous or Haitian kompa," he says.
And with so much variety, it's no wonder he doesn't have a favorite genre. "My favorite elements in music are rhythm and texture. Sometimes it's twangy country jazz, and sometimes it's more like a soundscape. It's just like somebody can eat pizza one day and Thai food the next."
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The one specific form in which he likes to indulge are long-format songs that can run up to 20 minutes. "When I compose for myself, it's coming from a naive place, a very simple, intuitive place," he says. "There are different patterns and ideas that I can get more in-depth with that in a group might be a simple part of a song. I can zoom in on stuff."
That's exactly what happens on his video and musical soundscape project, In the Shadow of a Dream, a DVD that offers five long tracks of airy, melodic, experimental sounds wherein listeners can take much-needed zone-out time staring at light-fleck graphics, similar to the ones you see when you rub your eyes. It's perfect for meditating, doing yoga, addressing insomnia, or finding inspiration to create, and it's one of several similar independent projects he is developing as he continues to support other artists.
That support comes not only as a guitarist but also as a promoter. In recent months, when he hasn't been on the Florida roadways touring with The Elastic Bond and Deblois, Buffalo has been organizing Collision, a monthly post-Wynwood Art Walk event at PS14. It features a combination of musical and spoken-word performances, live painting, short films, boho art, crafts, and health stands by South Florida locals. And while colleagues enjoy the nudges Buffalo gives them toward the limelight, they're eager to watch his dreams come out of the shadows.
"He has an amazing ability to take all these different influences and craft something that's entirely him," Fitzroy says. "He has yet to fully reveal himself."