Singer Sol “La Barbara” Ruiz says she feels like a superhero onstage. “Most people get nervous to perform, but for me, that’s where I’m the most comfortable,” she says. With her vibrant, futuristic clothing and ever-evolving hairstyles, she certainly looks the part. Now Ruiz, who says her musical family encouraged her creative instincts and "weirdness" from a young age, gets to play up that superhero fantasy as part of the Miami band Sol + the Tribu.
The trio consists of Ruiz, Rey “Sugar,” and Manny “Mr. Swag.” According to the group's fantastical origin story, each member represents a different era of the Miami sound. The members say they came together to reinvent the city's music, with Sol representing the future, Rey the present, and Manny the past. Their blend of sounds is heavily influenced by the Afro-Cuban music of the Caribbean and artists such as Benny Moré, Orishas, the Fugees, and Black Eyed Peas.
Asked how the band came together, Ruiz tells a wild tale reminiscent of David Bowie’s invention of Ziggy Stardust. Having grown tired of the AutoTuned and electronic aspects of Miami music, Ruiz wanted to reconnect with her Cuban and Caribbean musical roots. But her futuristic persona, La Barbara, emerges when she tells the whimsical legend of Sol + the Tribu, in which three superheroes from the year 3050 return to the present day to change the Miami sound for future generations. Coupling Ruiz's percussive singing style with the sweet guitar rhythms of Sugar and the cool Afro-Cuban beats of Mr. Swag, the trio brings the region's organic sound from the future to Miami in 2020.
That fantastical story plays out on the band's debut album, Miami 3050, released March 5, known in Miami as 305 Day. Every song is meant to represent each of the characters in Sol + the Tribu and their fantasy tale of discovering the retro-futuristic music they call the "new Miami sound." “[Sol + the Tribu's] purpose was to change the future of the Miami sound for their children's children's children's children and beyond,” Ruiz says.
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Despite the band's convoluted tale of time travel and discovery, the album's tracks are rooted in classic Latin and Caribbean styles, from cumbia to reggae. The trio's sense of humor shines through in the music video for the single "Palante," clocking in at exactly 3:05, and in songs such as "Congo Inferno," about taking a conga line straight to Hell.
Back from the future, the band has taken up a residency at the Faena Hotel in Miami Beach, where the three will play Thursday nights. The performances will be toned-down versions of their usual sets, but Ruiz says guests can still expect a party. Aside from the residency, it's not hard to catch a Sol + the Tribu set — the trio is one of the most active live bands in Miami.
As the band from the future looks to the future, Ruiz shows New Times snippets of songs she's working on in her hidden Midtown studio just a few months after the release of the band's full-length debut. Though the bandmates have assumed superhero personas, their mission is simple: “to encourage everyone to support the local music," Ruiz says. "There’s a lot of good talent out there and a lot to discover — especially now, with this new Miami sound.”