Across Latin America, the unceasing horns and drums and vivid colors of carnival herald the arrival of spring. Traditionally, it's a Dionysian celebration that worships our mortal forms and vices as we prepare for the Christian season of Lent, which acknowledges the beauty in our impermanence. Today, Carnaval Miami, presented by Kiwanis of Little Havana, is one of the Magic City's biggest parties and among the largest Hispanic festivals. This Sunday, March 11, the 41st-annual Calle Ocho Festival will take over 20 blocks with 12 stages for some good old orgullo latino. Here are the nine best acts to bop to with a croqueta in one hand and la mano de abuelita in the other.
Willy Chirino. This one is a no-brainer. The pinareño singer, whose dozens of albums (of which a good chunk have gone gold or platinum) have touched the hearts of Cubans everywhere, was an Operation Peter Pan kid who left Cuba when he was 13 years old. He got his start in Miami in the '70s singing in bars and clubs, including the Numero Uno Lounge in Miami Beach, a nearly untraceable fossil of local nightlife that only dads seem to remember. Songs such as "Soy Guajiro," which celebrate being from the countryside of Cuba, struck a chord with exiles in Miami and beyond. Tías tell anecdotes of carnival in Santiago de Cuba after the revolution, when exile musicians were largely banned from airplay. Residents played Willy Chirino from boomboxes in front of their homes despite warnings from police. This spirit of resistance makes Chirino a perfect headliner for the Calle Ocho Festival. 4:30 to 5 p.m. on the Sprint Stage, SW Eighth Street and 22nd Avenue, and 5:30 to 7 p.m. on the Univision & Mix 98.3 Stage, SW Eighth Street and 27th Avenue.
Aymée Nuviola. You might recognize Miami resident Aymée Nuviola from the (remarkable, tearjerking) Telemundo telenovela Celia, in which Nuviola portrayed Celia Cruz. (Nuviola also performed in Salsa: The Music of Celia Cruz in Miami in 2014.) Like her predecessor, "la guarachera de Cuba," Nuviola has earned the title of "la sonera del mundo" and always seems to be laughing. Yet she has a rich musical legacy of her own: She's been playing piano and singing since she was 9, and her Grammy-winning 2014 album, First Class to Havana, put her on the map. She's been a vocal contributor to Miami organizations such as La Liga Contra el Cancer and helped send a private plane full of supplies to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Former Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado even deemed February 10 "Aymée Nuviola Day." Enough said. Time TBA on the Telemundo Stage, SW Eighth Street and 23rd Avenue.
Chyno Miranda. Best known as half of the erstwhile pop duo Chino & Nacho, Chyno Miranda split from Nacho in 2017 and was well mourned by stations such as Tu 94.9. But the Venezuelan singer has more than held his own as a solo artist. His first single, "Quédate Conmigo," with Puerto Rican reggaetonero Wisin and Cuban feel-good megastars Gente de Zona, has more than 66 million views on YouTube. The song is a glowing representation of the Spanish-language, melodic pop reggaeton that is taking over the world. His refrain of "Venezuela, Puerto Rico y Cuba" is a call to the pan-Latino spirit of the explosion of Latin music last year and is sure to set the Calle Ocho crowd aflame. Time TBA on the Tu 94.9 Stage, SW Eighth Street and 12th Avenue.
Natti Natasha. Somehow "the most popular Spanish-speaking female urban artist on YouTube" is still a relative unknown. Dominican reggaeton singer Natti Natasha made headlines in November when her video for "Criminal," featuring Ozuna, temporarily dethroned the megalithic "Despacito." In addition to cutting her teeth among the foremost male rappers in the often-sexist industry of reggaeton, Natasha is a woman of incredible taste, acknowledging artists such as Lauryn Hill, Ivy Queen, and Jerry Rivera among her influences. Time TBA on the Tu 94.9 Stage, SW Eighth Street and 12th Avenue.
Diana Fuentes. In the tidal wave of reggaeton, pop, and rap coming out of Cuba, it's easy to miss singer-songwriter Diana Fuentes. The 33-year-old has a voice like honey and lyrics that navigate the complexities of love, womanhood, and freedom. Songs such as "La Gravedad" prioritize silence and space to highlight the soft work of piano, guitar, and her voice, while her collaborations with Gente de Zona and Tommy Torres indicate an ease of moving in and out of pop as it suits her. With her quiet voice and loud thoughts, Fuentes demonstrates a control and power over her instruments beyond most artists of her years. Time TBA on the Tu 94.9 Stage, SW Eighth Street and 12th Avenue.
El Micha. The past decade of political, economic, and social shifts in Cuba has led to an explosion of Cuban pop, reggaeton, and rap labeled "Cubaton." Artists such as Gente de Zona and Jacob Forever were the first Cuban musicians to break into the American pop mainstream in a minute. The 27-year-old Havana native Michael Sierra Miranda, AKA El Micha, is honest above all else, and his lyrics often tell of being from el barrio and making it. "I speak about what I live, about kids, old people; my songs come from the people," he told Havana Club. "My aspiration is to try that in every house, in every car, in every place. My hoarse voice tells people the truth, tells them to dance and to forget the rest." Time TBA on the Tu 94.9 Stage, SW Eighth Street and 12th Avenue.
Lady Vixxen. Y'all, we need to talk about Lady Vixxen. This Dominican rapper from Brooklyn has a Spanglish flow that is just absurd. Blending elements of trap as popularized by Cardi B and grime à la Stefflon Don, Victoria Caterine Sánchez is making Latin trap that feels truer and more authentic than even, yes, the untouchable remix of "Bodak Yellow." In other words, está dura. Time TBA on the Claro Stage, SW Eighth Street and 13th Avenue.
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Ángeles. Oye, nothing heralds the rebirth of a nation's booming music industry like a boy band. Perhaps you too always secretly thought One Direction would be better if it were a band of cubanitos. There's something incredibly heartwarming about Cuban teenagers finding their Zayn in Ángeles. Look no further than their song "Me Mata Tu Amor" to understand why. Time TBA on the Tu 94.9 Stage, SW Eighth Street and 12th Avenue.
D'mentes. Compared to others on this list, D'Mentes are standing among giants. Miami boys Nilo, Maku, and Froddo are Cuban, Venezuelan, and Nicaraguan, and, similarly, their pop-rock sound combines the best of Latin rock from across Latin America. Their breakout single, "Tú Me Dejaste," sounds like Maná and Juanes distilled for the Spotify generation. And Carnaval Miami was actually one of the band's first gigs. "When we finished [playing,] we felt a mixture of joy and adrenaline," drummer Froddo recalled. "The feeling and confirmation of doing what we were born to do is amazing!" Time TBA on the Telemundo Stage, SW Eighth Street and 23rd Avenue.
Calle Ocho Festival 2018. 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, March 11, on SW Eighth Street between 12th and 27th Avenues, Miami; 305-644-8888; carnavalmiami.com. Admission is free; VIP tickets cost $100 via eventbrite.com.