Okay, so the guy headlined New Times Vibe 2001, our multifaceted music blowout that nobody attended. But that doesn't mean we were deaf to other rock singers in town. Nil Lara just happened to be the frontman who didn't make our ears bleed. Lara's soulful voice and pleasant inflections are more Peter Gabriel than Beny Moré. Still the Cuban-American songwriter reaches into his guajiro roots to create a unique repertoire of meaningful and engaging tunes. Sporting his trademark flannels and bare feet, shiny-domed Lara cuts a playful and pensive presence while strumming his cuatro onstage. He returned to South Florida last year from a grueling 22-month tour that took him across the United States and to Japan and Europe. Since coming back he's been recuperating, writing new songs, and spending time in the studio. The legions of fans he began cultivating while a student at the University of Miami can bet they'll see more of Lara's high-spirited shows. And we can rest easy, knowing we won't have to deal with bloodstained earplugs.
Awarding kudos to a record label may seem a bit odd initially. After all, it's the artists that make the all-important music. The labels simply are a conduit to the public. It's hard to imagine saluting, say Sony Records, for its selfless contributions to mankind. But Beta Bodega Coalition isn't your typical record label. In fact spend a little time talking with label founders Steven Castro and Rick Garrido, and their venture begins to sound a lot more like an agitprop art project -- one that, for now, just happens to express itself on vinyl and compact disc. Indeed both figures seem just as passionate about issues of social justice (particularly the ongoing civil strife across Latin America) as they do about experimental electronic music. And the steady stream of twelve-inch records and CDs they've issued over the past two years is an honest attempt to fuse those two loves. "This isn't dance-floor music," Castro explains. "It's music for you to sit down and ponder." Case in point: releases such as Needle's (longtime local aural terrorist Ed Bobb) trnsmssn, an unsettling weave of vintage FMLN guerrilla radio broadcasts and off-kilter beats; or Los Angeles leftist collective Ultra Red's Plan de Austeridad, an audio documentary that sets recordings from a condemned housing project to fuzzy, dubbed-out grooves and then lets figures such as Miami drum-and-bass tweaker Otto Von Shirach go nuts remixing it all. This commitment to unorthodoxy extends beyond the music itself to the packaging, an aesthetic that uses silk-screened sleeves and cryptic liner notes to a distinctive effect that's very, well, Beta Bodega-esque. Are the contents within easy listening? Rarely, which is what makes Beta Bodega's efforts all the more commendable. As the label's counter-parties during the Winter Music Conference reiterated, no one else in South Florida dedicates so much time, effort, and money to giving proudly noncommercial artists -- both here and abroad -- an outlet.

Psycho Daisies guitarist and frontman John Salton has the kind of personal track record that would make even Keith Richards blush, but like that grizzled rock veteran, Salton keeps rasping and rolling along with equal parts admirable grit and laid-back cool. Two decades after the Daisies' original heyday backing Charlie Pickett (then under the moniker the Eggs), the Daisies seem to have placed a "semi" in front of their state of retirement. This past year has seen them return to Churchill's appropriately darkened stage to put their own ragged, organ-drenched spin on Sixties garage punk tunes such as the Thirteenth Floor Elevators' "You're Gonna Miss Me," and to pound out their own Dream Syndicate-styled originals. It's not pretty, and the group's abrasive feedback-friendly sound certainly isn't in fashion these days (especially here in Miami), but every note rings true.
An artist's muse can be tricky to pin down. It's easy to recognize when a musician is in touch with it, drawing on some vibrant inner force. But what exactly causes that creative well to run dry? Fans of the singer and original Grupo Nostalgia band leader Luis Bofill have spent the better part of the past year or so pondering that very question. It was in no small part Bofill's soulful crooning -- as suited to a slow-burning ballad as to a growling, hip-grinding son workout -- that made Grupo Nostalgia's initial weekend residency at Little Havana's Café Nostalgia the local spot for serious fans of Latin music. And it's a credit to the rhythmic chops of all concerned that long after Bofill had settled into essentially going through the onstage motions, audiences still turned up to hear whatever new assemblage he was fronting. (Though that also speaks to many Miamians' desperate hunger for a Saturday-night alternative to clubland's canned beats.) But a funny thing happened on the way to Washed-up-ville: Without any advance fanfare, Bofill put together a new outfit, Cuba Libre (featuring several familiar faces), and adopted a decidedly new attitude. Just what precipitated this return to form is unclear, but as Cuba Libre's recent Friday-night performances at Coral Gables' Giacosa demonstrate, Bofill is back, and serving some of the hottest grooves around.
Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, Andres Juliao did not have much opportunity to hear the accordion. It was only when he visited his family in Barranquilla that he came to appreciate the sound that is the backbone of vallenato, one of the many traditional musical genres of Colombia's Atlantic coast. He began studying the accordion four years ago. Two years later he rounded up a number of veteran Colombian folklore musicians living in Miami to form his own vallenato group here featuring singer Poti Lozana, Tayrol Carrillo on caja or box, Leo Ceballos on guacharaca, Francisco Prieto on bass, Mario Lozano on congas, and Hermides Benitez on timbales. Andres Juliao and his Vallenatos also play cumbia and contemporary vallenato-pop, but the accordionist says he still prefers classics such as "La Gota Fria." Carlos Vives, who made "La Gota Fria" an international hit, has been known to sit in at gigs around town, but even without the charismatic star, this exuberant ensemble more than holds its own.
Can you define Southern rap? We mean beyond the obvious identifier of being made by rappers raised in the South. (Gee, thanks, professor!) Is there a telltale sign, an ingredient that makes a song undeniably from below the Mason-Dixon Line? Well, forget about drawled accents, thugged-out attitudes, or even a propensity to rap about barbecue. Miami's own Trick Daddy hit the gritty cultural nail on the head when he recreated the fat tubas and whoop-ass trombones of a Miami hard-stepping high school marching band, providing a unique low end for his "Shut Up" single. The result is irresistible, head-snapping funk that couldn't have come from anywhere else. For the tune's accompanying video, Trick even went one better: That's Northwestern High's own Marching Bulls strutting down the field. It's all about the Benjamins? Maybe in New York. Here in the Magic City, it's all about high school football, baby.
No man is a prophet in his hometown. So maybe that's why in six years of gigging like crazy all over town, pan-Latin rockers Bacilos registered nary a mention in New Times. Now that they're off to greener pastures, touring Latin America for the Miami-based WEA Latina label, the trio of Colombian-born frontman Jorge Villamizar, Brazilian-born bass player Andre Lopes, and Puerto Rican drummer JJ Freire is sorely missed. The University of Miami alums were staples at the Marlin, Churchill's, Tobacco Road, and the celebrated Stephen Talkhouse. Their self-titled, self-produced release is a document of those years, capturing the energy of the band's live shows and hinting at the range of Villamizar's songwriting craft. His vocal skills are impressively versatile as well, whether warbling on the heartbreaker "Soledad," warning of environmental destruction on "There Goes the Wood," or packing a political punch on "Chronicle of an Announced Immigration." If it's true, as they sing, that now everybody wants Taco Bell, Bacilos' fusion of Latin folk traditions with good old rock and roll is just the antidote for homogenized Latin pop.
An evening of exquisite understatement began when pianist-vocalist Shirley Horn took the stage at the Coral Gables Congregational Church and caressed the keyboard as she hadn't in Miami since the late Eighties. Joined by drummer Steve Williams and bassist Charles Ables, the 66-year-old Horn was touring in support of her album I Remember Miles. The Miles mentioned in the title was trumpet titan Miles Davis, who 40 years earlier had heard her album Embers and Ashes and lured Horn from her Washington, D.C., home to New York City. Subsequently she often opened for him at the Village Vanguard and carved out a career, which she relinquished a few years later for motherhood. Her piano chops remained, however, and when she and Davis reunited for her 1990 album You Won't Forget Me, it was as if they had never left each other's side. Even without her friend Miles, who has been gone for nine years, Horn proved that night in Coral Gables she could still astonish with her elegant piano styling, velvet voice, and serene presence. As she closed the show with a relaxed rendition of Butler and Molinary's wistful ode "Here's to Life," the awestruck audience realized at that very moment that life couldn't be any better.
Another lonely Saturday night? Tune into to Edwin "El Huracan" Bautista's dance program on Classica 92 from 7:00 p.m. to midnight and connect to dozens of Latin house parties happening all over Miami. For two years Bautista has been building a steady following with an intoxicating mix of salsa, merengue, and disco guaranteed to move the most stubborn booty. Bautista squeezes Donna Summer classics between old-school Latin jams by the likes of Sonora Poncena and the original Fania All Stars. "I play salsa with descargas, instrumental jams that none of the other stations play because they are too long," he says. "I don't care. I play it in my show, and people love it."

Not even Hurricane Debby could rain out the Rhythm Foundation, the organization that for thirteen years has brought the very best in world music to Miami. When a twenty-minute downpour drenched the North Shore Community Bandshell in Miami Beach where Brazilian artists Chico Cesar and Rita Ribeiro were scheduled to perform last August, the artists improvised an intimate two-hour acoustic set in the adjacent community center for the fans who braved the storm to hear forro music. Like so many Rhythm Foundation events, the Chico Cesar show was a Florida premiere, as was the spectacular moonlit show by Afro-Colombian pioneer Totó La Momposina and the mesmerizing North American debut of the Whirling Dervishes of Damascus. Concerts range from the educational presentation of folklore at the Dominican Youth Arts Festival to the awe-inspiring bossa nova revival of Marisa Monte to the experimental cross-cultural collaboration between composer Philip Glass and West African griot and kora virtuoso Foday Musa Suso. Without the Rhythm Foundation, Miami would be a quieter, less vibrant place.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®