When naming the leader of the Latin jazz explosion in South Florida, look no further than Sammy Figueroa. He has played on myriad records, providing the rhythmic structure for several mainstream hits. Born in the Bronx and discovered at age 18 by legendary jazz flautist Herbie Mann, he relocated to South Florida in 2001, where he discovered a rich and diverse group of Latin jazz geniuses. The next year, Figueroa and his Latin Jazz Explosion band made their first appearance at the Hollywood Jazz Festival. Blessed with a smooth voice and extensive familiarity of jazz, Figueroa has also found a calling as a radio host. His show, Latin Jazz Quarter, airing every Friday afternoon on WDNA-FM (88.9), is one of the station's most popular. Figueroa not only plays Latin jazz but also allows listeners to experience the musical stylings of African drums, Middle Eastern folk, and Native American chants. At the end of 2008, he put together a band called Sally's Tomato, an ode to the music of Cal Tjader. With two Grammy nominations and appearances with Diana Ross, Joe Cocker, Miles Davis, Mick Jagger, and David Bowie, Sammy Figueroa is truly jazz greatness.
Competition for top honors in this category was fierce. As the informal capital of Latin America, Miami-Dade has an ample assortment of música del sur. But Conjunto Progreso makes a hell of a strong case. A Cuban jam band through and through, Conjunto offers sumptuous son that any of the masters might envy. With multiple vocalists, guitar, bass, piano, bongos, congas, trumpets, tres, clave, cowbell (for which we have a fever — the only cure being more cowbell), and guiro (which actually has nothing to do with Jersey Shore), Conjunto is a full-blown orchestra. And the band sounds like it. Much like Tula leaving the candle on in her room, the descargas they throw down at all of their frequent local gigs could be deemed a fire hazard. They seriously light it up.
After years of playing at local clubs, rapper/singer Platano (Ivan Rodriguez) has truly become a Miami original. His style is a mix of every tropical genre. Mixing Spanish and English, Platano combines all that's cool in Latin music and delivers it with a clear sense of originality. Signature song "Helicoptero" is a kaleidoscope of throbbing bass lines and Caribbean drums that will get anyone and everyone jumping. With an established local fan base, Platano also tours outside of South Florida. To many people across the nation, his original sound represents what's cool about Latin music in Miami.
A young Derek Miller, then the guitarist and one of the main creative forces of pan-South Florida hardcore band Poison the Well, told New Times in 2003: "We get a lot of grief from guys who just want to hear screaming, but you reach a point where you've said everything you can say with a scream. As far as I'm concerned, singing is endless. I can hear someone sing forever." Soon after parting ways with PTW, which just wouldn't move past all of that screaming, he began his search for the perfect singer. He slummed around for a while, trying to get a new musical project off the ground. At one point, he tried his hand in California, then moved back, and eventually, like way too many promising local musicians and artists, heard the siren songs of Brooklyn. That's where he found vocalist Alexis Kraus, who, oddly enough, also has Florida roots and used to sing in a teen girl group. Together they formed Sleigh Bells. The rise was meteoric. Just one example: They took the top spot on New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones's list of best albums of 2009. Never mind they'd released only a handful of MP3s at that point. To complete their debut album, Treats, they signed to M.I.A.'s record label. It was met with critical acclaim and even cracked the Billboard Top 40. While the band still reps Florida, we'll always secretly wish that the two Floridians had actually, you know, met and formed here. We just hope that, unlike way too many Brooklyn-based bands, they don't forget South Florida on their touring schedule.
Apparently, size matters. In the past year, either owing to locals' thinning wallets or attempts to evade tourist traps, smaller and more personable venues have made a huge comeback. Giant nightlife staples once reigned supreme, but today's world is slightly different. Many local partiers are searching for smaller locales — or maybe they've just grown tired of the $20 parking, $20 cover, and $20 drink charges. This past December, the price to be in the presence of Lady Gaga and one of her science-project outfits at Miami's larger-than-life Fontainebleau Resort was $425 — for general admission. That's a lot of money to spend for a night out dancing alongside a slew of sunburned out-of-towers seeking photo ops. And then there are those MTV reality-show characters who keep making appearances with their camera crews at Miami's mammoth clubs. Yet there are many night spots throughout the city where cover charges either don't exist or are minimal, and the crowds are purely local. Try explaining the Electric Pickle to a foreigner. Or check out the recently opened Cafeina in Wynwood. Maybe Miami's after-darkers have become recessionistas. Or perhaps they believe they are too good to mingle with tourists. Whatever the reason, the town's holes-in-the-wall are enjoying the love.
AJ the R&B General is a man who frankly speaks his mind. Take, for instance, this come-on from the song "Ape Sex": "Baby, he might have good sex/But, baby, I got ape sex/I hit it like boom, boom, boom, ah, ah." Then, on "Professional Dancer," he sings, "The way she work that pole is so amazing/All the money in my pocket she gon' take it/I ain't never seen nothing so beautiful naked." And of course, there's the sweeping chorus: "I'ma throw my money at her." And finally, from the most blush-worthy entry in the AJ oeuvre, "Satisfaction": "Sitting on my face/Love the way you taste/Gripping on your waist while I'm making my tongue say/La la la la la la."But the 24-year-old crooner somehow gets away with it all, thanks to a talent for writing scarily catchy melodies and choosing ultrahigh production values, mostly bolstered by beats by local producers Phat Boy Beats. He also has a mellifluous tenor that holds up live as well it does on record, a rarity in a sea of industry wannabes.
At the beginning of the year, Sweat Records announced a contest for amateur filmmakers to create a video for local sweetheart Rachel Goodrich's latest single, "Lightbulb." The winner would receive bragging rights and $500. Thirty-seven artists uploaded their entries to YouTube for Sweat and Goodrich's consideration. The song, like much of Goodrich's work, is quirky, unthreatening, and full of kazoo. It's sunny and hummable enough to land in a Crayola commercial. So most of the would-be video directors submitted similarly twee clips and animations. Not Lucas Leyva, the young, upstart member of the local Borscht Film Festival. The Miami native is diehard 305 till he dies, and his version went for reality. Filmed in the streets of Wynwood, the video shows a gang of street children on bicycles, tattoo artists, and thugs with gold vampire teeth — all lip-synched along to Goodrich's happy-go-lucky tune. Some are loading guns or rolling dice. Oh, and between each of these vignettes, there's plenty of booty-clapping for emphasis. The entry was completely unexpected, and the predictable offended comments on YouTube were as funny as the concept itself. Leyva scored second place in the contest, but he's the winner in our book. (You can see it by searching Leyva and Goodrich on YouTube.)
If you're older than 25, you might remember the now-defunct Friday-night party Off the Radar, an indie/electro/what-have-you night organized by Poplife founder Ray Milian. It was never much of a success, partly because it was way ahead of its time and also because it changed venues too often. Milian, though, isn't a man who surrenders easily. He has put all the musical knowledge to good use to give Miami its answer to popular music blogs such as Gorilla vs. Bear and Stereogum. Off the Radar (the blog!) boasts Milian in the DJ seat, but instead of a turntable, he uses Blogger. He receives help from a group of contributors including Lillian Banderas, Caroline Geys, Michael Unger, and Erika Ordoñez. Though the majority of the blog doesn't focus on Miami music, it offers plenty of downloadable tracks for connoisseurs with more developed palates. In other words, if you're expecting this blog to discuss Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, move along.
Musicians Discount Center
Photo by Arlenis Brito
As music goes cold and digital, an ever-growing contingent of music fans and artists is turning back to the snap-crackle-pop of vinyl. For those who continue buying actual physical music, the big surprises of an actual record far outweigh those of the disappointing CD. And of course, vinyl will likely always appeal to obsessive collectors. But most crate-diggers in town are reduced to doing so virtually or picking through mounds of holiday-music albums at thrift stores. This is no longer so if they head to Cutler Bay, miles from hipster central. In a strip mall next to a sports bar lies Musicians Discount Center, which, at first glance, looks like just what it is — a small, family-run musical instrument store that's a decent place to snag your first guitar. But head to the back of the main room. There the store sells crates upon crates of old vinyl collections. It's a curated one, though, and it's a digger's paradise, with records conveniently sorted by style but priced as though they were still languishing next to those holiday albums. The average price is $5. Gaze upon first pressings of New Order 12-inches from the '80s, paw through early hip-hop LPs by acts such as Kool & the Gang, or snap up rock classics by artists such as Chuck Berry and Santana. Just don't spread the word too much — oops.
Lily's Records
With three Miami locations, Lily's Records is the center of Latin music in the city. The main store — located on Calle Ocho — remains a busy intersection of all things Latin. Even in these hard economic times, people line up for new releases and appearances by their favorite artists. Big international names — such as Calle 13 — along with local up-and-coming artists make Lily's their main stop in Miami. And not only are the shops up-to-date on all the trends, but also this is the place to get your fix of classic salsa and other old-school greats. Whether it's Latin jazz, pop, or old-time tropical, all three Lily's locations have what you're looking for.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®