BEST LOCAL BAND NAME Buddha Gonzalez and the Headless Chiwawas If you don't get it, you need to spark up some buddha and listen to Buddha and his funky gang as you let the THC soak in.

BEST LOCAL PERCUSSIONIST Kala "I play by feeling. I have to feel the vibe," says Kala (one name, like Sting), the percussionist and keyboardist for electro-rock foursome 10 Sheen. The 31-year-old Hialeah native has no real half-beat/quarter-beat training; he taught himself after a childhood of listening to his dad, a veteran Latin percussionist. The night the former drummer decided to lose the sticks, however, he wasn't watching the house act at Tropigala but rather a rock band -- a rock band with a conga player. It blew him away and he's been handing it up since. In addition to his 10 Sheen gig, he pounds at recording sessions for jazz, Haitian, and, yes, Latin acts. Don't give him a bunch of sheet music though. This drummer goes with his gut.


Secret Service

As much as we hear about Miami's lack of a music scene, there are bands worth coming home smelling like an ashtray and risking that train-ran-over-my-head feeling the morning after. Secret Service, three guys doing punk-meets-pop with high energy and a decibel level to match, took shape in 1998. They had a great blend of heavy and pop hooks and stood out from the let's-rehash-New-Wave gang. Their 2003 EP, This Landmark Will Distort, received solid reviews, as did their live performances at the usual Miami bar-band haunts. Unfortunately, suffering from continual drummer havoc, the band could no longer keep the beat.


Finesse and Runway

BEST LOCAL ELECTRONICA RELEASE OF THE PAST TWELVE MONTHS Finesse and Runway Finesse and Runway Melba "Finesse" Payes and Dino "Runway" Felipe's debut album is a product of a life spent in this city, from Finesse's sassy vocoder vocals to Runway's electronic palette. The duo brings forth its sounds by drawing from freestyle, electro, and IDM pop sounds. One song, "New Materials," approximates Jellybean Benitez-era Madonna, while the ass-shaking jam "Redwood" hisses out precocious booty bass. The duo's performances are so freewheeling and exciting that one can't help but be drawn in; it sounds like a roller-rink disco, all teen steam and boulevard dreams.

BEST LOCAL MUSICIAN TO LEAVE TOWN Lee Williams Sleek funkateer, former New Times columnist, and inveterate letter-writer Lee Williams has moved to New York City to ply his jazz-inflected rap stylings in a town he deems more hospitable to his musical talents. And given Miami's strict hip-hop division into either Pitbull-style shouters and club-shakers or mind-numbingly obtuse "indie" MCs, Williams's presence on the microphone -- erudite yet playful, and always dripping with laid-back sex appeal -- will continue to be sorely missed.

BEST LOCAL ELECTRONICA ARTIST The Waterford Landing Fronted by unassuming composer/keyboard player/droll singer/arbitrator Alex Caso, the Waterford Landing is actually a democratic trio, with Caso joined by scene veterans Richard Rippe (electric bass, synthesizers) and Ed Matus (electric guitar, synthesizers, vocals) to channel shoegazer and New Wave to the suburbs. Formed in 1997, the Landing has plenty of devoted local followers, many of whom have become friends as well as fans. This past year the trio released an eponymous debut album that is truly an album -- listenable all the way through, with the dazzling "The Girls of Saga Bay" becoming an Internet and WVUM-FM (90.5) regular. Drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as Ultravox and the Magnetic Fields, the men of Waterford infuse their pop with moments of psychedelia and experimentation but also with the kind of shimmering languor possible only for those immersed in Miami's somnolent (truly) alternative music culture as well as the environment here in general. "We all have day jobs," Caso admits of the hep threesome. "I may seem like the mayor of the band, but in fact we are all equal and integral parts of this project. It is somewhat of a power trio."

Readers´ Choice: Otto Von Schirach

BEST LOCAL SONGWRITER Sam Beam Under the pseudonym Iron & Wine, Sam Beam has garnered positive notices in magazines and newspapers around the world. His plaintive, modest recordings (including this year's Woman King EP), which possess a rustic sonic quality that makes them seem like they were created a half-century ago, have made him a leader in the international folk-rock renaissance alongside Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart, and a few others. The catalyst for the attention is the strength of his lyrics. "There are sailing ships that pass all our bodies in the grass/Springtime calls her children until she lets them go at last," he sings on one single, "Passing Afternoon." These words are delivered by a voice that is wispy and haunting, reverberating long after the CD has ended.

BEST LOCAL ACOUSTIC PERFORMER Jim Camacho Although he's years removed from major-label status (via his now-defunct band the Goods), Jim Camacho is still an ambitious performer. This past fall he released an independent album, Stalker Songs, that was beautifully packaged with a series of postcards designed by Charlie Calderin and himself, illustrating each of its fifteen songs. He mounted Fools' Paradise: A Musical of Love and War, a play set during World War II and costarring local rockers such as Derek Cintron (DC-3) and Ferny Coipel (Humbert). But Camacho is at his best when he's onstage alone. From illuminating his own tracks (which you can hear at with sharp, raspy melodies to interpreting songs by the Beatles, Jim Camacho has a knack for producing indelible live performances with nothing but an acoustic guitar and his voice.

BEST LOCAL LATIN BAND Locos por Juana The nine-member collective known as Locos por Juana, which recently released its second album, Música pa'l Pueblo, isn't a typical Latin band. The players have a strong pop sensibility, mixing salsa, timba, ska, reggae, and merengue beats into an accessible but high-spirited blend. The result can be exotic and wildly unpredictable, a nonstop party sound that shifts moods by the minute. Locos por Juana's live show is even crazier -- nine guys on a small stage (joined by frequent musical guests) dancing around and rocking about, jumping and jamming until the audience can't help but share in the fun.

BEST LOCAL JAZZ ARTIST José Negroni After teaching for seventeen years at the prestigious Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico, pianist José Negroni moved to Miami. In 2003 his trio released its first CD, Naturaleza/Nature, followed last year with Piano-Drums-Bass (both on Universal Latino). As part of a new wave of Puerto Rican musicians whose music goes beyond traditional salsa forms, Negroni and his band, which includes his equally virtuosic son Nomar on drums, combine a hard postbop style and a lyrical classicism with their Latin roots. It's a little Chucho Valdes with a bit of Chick Corea. And while Negroni's music has been gathering critical acclaim on a national scale, he can still be heard pounding the keys at local jazz joints like Van Dyke Café.

Readers´ Choice: Nestor Torres

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®