SoulFlo Are the Mercenaries of Miami Live Music

Miami suffers from a severe lack of live music. That's not an opinion — that's a well-known and frequently discussed fact.

The 305 leads in electronic music and even benefits from a worldwide reputation in rap, but when a Miamian wants to leave his or her house and hear a full band perform music on analog instruments, options are slim.

“We played this one gig — I'm not going to say the names — but [the venue] claimed to be the best live music venue in South Beach,” says local musician Nick Odio. “We got there, and they didn't even have equipment for a live band. That's exactly why we're doing what we're doing.”

Odio is the guitarist in SoulFlo, a six-piece band that's livening up Miami's music scene but not in the usual way. Instead, SoulFlo offers out-of-town talent — mostly rappers and R&B singers — their services. When an artist comes to Miami — like rapper Mystikal, for instance — SoulFlo will learn that artist's music and serve as a backing band. So, where most shows would typically use a DJ and a simple backing track, SoulFlo will transform the night into a live show, an experience few rap concert-goers get. They've done it with Rico Barrino, JT Money, and others, and they're going to do it with Mystikal this Sunday, September 18, at Sidebar.

“It's hard to break the scene with a band,” Odio says. “It's hard to build a band up where you're writing your own music and get people behind it, but hey – you got this guy that's got a bunch of hits and everyone is like, 'I wanna hear those hits...' It gives us a platform to build a fanbase by targeting — not an audience necessarily but an artist who has an audience, and we can develop our audience through them.”

“The band gave us an avenue, a lane that's not oversaturated,” says SoulFlo's piano man, Faraji Judson. “We created this band [because there was] a need to create an avenue or a venue where people can come and enjoy live music — a good setting where the atmosphere is cool for good music."

SoulFlo formed about a year ago, its members coming together from different arenas in search of a common goal, sharing a love of the urban music scene. Odio originally hails from Minnesota but lived in and worked on music in Colorado, California, and Austin before coming to stay near family in Miami. It was working here at Sidebar, a venue owned by his cousin Jason Odio, that he met famed producer Scott Storch, which led to production work on tracks with Mario and others, including the Rick Ross and Chris Brown collaboration, “Sorry.”

But Storch eventually moved to California, and Odio began to focus on his live guitar game. Soon, he met SoulFlo's saxophone player, who later invited him to join the band.

Judson, for his part, is kind of the prodigy of the pack. He's been playing music since he was 3 and writing his own productions since age 12.

“I literally grew up in the studio,” he says. “While my friends in high school were going to parties and movies, I was going school, then to the studio, and from the studio back to band practice.”

He's worked with tons of artists from Chris Brown to Trick Daddy to Trina, and he relishes the chance to bring the live human element to a world of performance dominated by the static backing track.

“With the track, you're kind of confined,” Judson says. “But with the band, we can venture off and do our own things.”
“It's the human element,” Odio chimes in. “When you're listening to someone play with a track, you know what you're going to get. We don't really feed off of what we're supposed to do. We're feeding off of the energy, and not just of the bandmates, and not just the artist, but also the audience.”

SoulFlo performances inject a familiar catalogue with newly invigorated light. Everyone who was conscious in 2000 knows the words to Mystikal's “Shake Ya Ass,” but chances are you've never heard it performed with full instrumentation as the New Orleans rapper directs a live band to put a little extra sauce here, take a horn solo there, and spice it up with all the Louisiana swag some Miami boys can muster.

Considering Mystikal's production features such heavy organic instrumentation already, Odio and Judson think this might just be the band's best show yet. Also, Hennessy will be an official sponsor, so you know it's going to be lit.

“I believe everything is full circle,” Judson says. “Music is coming back to this live band sound, and especially urban music. I think that's the trend, bringing this live music sound, and it works.”

SoulFlo sees a lot of room for growth in its formula too. It's establishing relationships with the old Dirty South rappers, and besides doing shows with more of their favorites, they'd love to one day start writing with some of these artists in the studio. There's also some talk of hitting the road on tour as a full-on backing band, but those things are in the future. For now, SoulFlo is happy to bring a little much-needed love to Miami.

“It's one of those things that's out of sight, out of mind,” Odio says. “Until you see it, and then you're like, 'Oh, maybe we do need more live music.'”

Mystikal Live with SoulFlo. 9 p.m. Sunday, September 18, at Sidebar, 337 SW Eighth St., Miami; 786-703-6973; Tickets cost $18 via