You could literally see the changing of the cultural guard as the Orishas whipped through their set of rumba-steeped rap at Starfish this past November. In front of the stage was a sweaty mass of Cuban-American teens and twentysomethings, singing along with every verse. Back at the bar was a cluster of older Cuban exiles, curious to hear the latest spin on Afro-Cuban music and perhaps a bit bemused to catch some Buena Vista-styled samples cropping up between the Orishas' percussive beats. It's certainly true that the group isn't the cream of Havana's burgeoning hip-hop scene. (In fact since they now reside in Paris as Cuban expats, their current material seems to owe as much to the smooth strains of French rap as to any of their native island's musical currents.) And some of its choreographed dance moves invoked a bit too much of 'N Sync's slick vibe for comfort. But once the Orishas got over their microphone troubles, they definitely proved they could not only bring the noise but introduce Miami to yet another revolution bubbling over across the Florida Straits.
Miami's own heavy-metal warrior by way of Sweden and Los Angeles, Yngwie Malmsteen has settled on a novel solution to the ol' "Hope I Die Before I Get Old" quandary that plagues so many aging rock singers. Sure he still pens the same Dungeons and Dragons-esque tales of teen angst, marauding goblins, and demonic armies as he did nearly two decades ago. He just lets someone else sing them. And should that hired vocalist begin to lose his heavy-metal mettle, or (shudder) begin to mellow, Malmsteen simply fires his leather-jacketed ass and hires a new microphone slinger. It's a modus operandi that leaves him free to concentrate on his guitar playing -- the main reason, after all, his fans keep coming back, album after album. War to End All Wars certainly doesn't disappoint on that count. It's chock full of Malmsteen's squealing solo work and gloriously over-the-top allusions to his classical composer heroes. Bonus feature: The CD booklet reprints the lyrics so you can sing along. All together now: "In there dwells the wizard/His breath like a blizzard/Ancient incantations/Evil revelations."
Last year Liliana Rodriguez's show (7:00 to 10:00 p.m. Wednesday) took honors for Best Latin Radio Program. This year the show breaks out of the barrio to take the prize for Best Rock Radio Program, period. This is a plea to all the powerful commercial stations across the dial: We want our Latin alternative!
It's hard enough to be a working jazzman in South Florida, let alone one who treads the avant-garde side of the tracks. So rather than worry about pleasing club owners searching for nothing more than background noise, saxophonist Keshavan Maslak (a.k.a. Kenny Millions, a tongue-in-cheek nod to the local success-crazed vibe) devotes most of his live appearances to European music festivals. And rather than deal with record-company pressures, Maslak has recently taken to recording in his own living room, setting up the microphones himself and issuing the results on his own Hum Ha label. On his latest outing, he's invited noted pianist Burton Greene -- a fellow exiled veteran of the downtown NYC jazz scene -- for a series of forceful duets titled simply Detroit Meets Chicago, a reference to each performer's hometown and musical roots. Both men skip back and forth between traditional riffs and free jazz, with Maslak effortlessly shifting from a tender melodic line to some truly wigged-out honking. Likewise Greene is a master at both gentle ivory tickling and a jarring attack that could give even Cecil Taylor shivers. Yet as heady as the music gets, Maslak never lets listeners forget the point of it all. As he growls out loud in one song: "C'mon and have some serious fun/Don't worry about who's dead and gone!"

Have amplifier, will travel. Cuban singer-songwriter Poveda never misses an opportunity to perform, whether at scheduled shows in the funky dives of Little Havana or on a street corner near you. Not averse to playing with a band (as the rambling roster of his sometime ensemble Los Bloomers de Havana attests), he is in his element alone, accompanying his gravel-and-nicotine voice with an acoustic guitar, the click of his tongue, and the wind instrument that is his sighs.
For two young men who appear smiling goofily in virtually every picture snapped over the past year by their increasing number of international media admirers, Phoenecia's Romulo del Castillo and Josh Kay sure produce some creepy music. Indeed Brownout may be their darkest work yet, slowing down the frenetic pace of earlier singles such as "Odd Job" (drastically reworked herein) and allowing all manner of disturbing elements to slink into the mix. Small pieces of glass and an unsprung grandfather clock crunch underneath hypnotically churning rhythms, ghostly echoes, and ominous tones. Dance-floor fodder this ain't. Yet Brownout is oddly compelling, like a horror movie from which you can't turn away -- perfect for pulling on a pair of headphones, dimming the lights, and losing yourself. Just check underneath the bed first.
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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®