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New Latin Music Fuses Many Styles In A Polycultural Jam


22 November 2004
Copyright © 2004
THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved. 

Itagui Correa is whipping his dreads around atop a speaker at Club State, as if to further mix up the rhythms of the 11 musicians in Suenalo Sound System, from Colombia, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico and the U.S.

It's a polycultural jam just this side of chaos -- Colombian cumbia with a funky bottom and a throbbing reggae backbeat, squealing Santana-style rock guitar, a taut Cuban piano montuno accenting Correa's rap. But most of the time all you hear is a churning groove that has the 800 people at this South Beach club chanting, dancing and yelling for more.

Correa and his various bands -- Suenalo, Locos Por Juana, and Xperimento -- are at the center of a new sound in Miami, one which was celebrated at Club State during the Miami Latin Funk Festival earlier this month.

Call it Latin jam, or Miami fusion.

In contrast to the Latin music that came out of this city in the '80s and most of the '90s, largely defined by artists like Gloria Estefan, Willie Chirino, and Nil Lara, who mixed Cuban with American genres, this new sound has its roots all over the Americas.

''I don't think there's any other American city that has the mix you have here,'' says Andrew Yeomanson, best known as DJ Le Spam, mixmeister and brain behind the Spam All Stars, the nationally known Latin funk group that created the blueprint for today's Miami music scene.

The sound is a blend of Colombian cumbia and vallenato, Jamaican reggae and dancehall, Cuban son and timba, American funk and hip-hop, seasoned with Brazilian, Puerto Rican and other music from both hemispheres.


It's made by young and idealistic musicians from all over the Americas, many of them part of the influx of new Latin American immigrants. They're joined by circumstance, a love of groove, a freeform attitude, and wide open ears. And they're infusing the local Latin music scene with an energy it hasn't had in a long time.

''What's happening here in Miami is there are so many different people from so many different places we're creating this universal sound,'' says Nacio (real name Juan Ignacio Londoño), a young Colombian artist who's part of the scene. ``I can do what I do because of Miami.''

Fusing Latin with international styles like rock and electronica is hot in Latin alternative music right now. But in countries like Mexico and Colombia, artists tend to stick to genres from their own countries for the Latin half of the recipe. In Miami, musicians accustomed to hearing music from all over and jamming with artists from all over are mixing it all together, following instinct more than a conscious plan.

''When I start to play, it's like I've got headphones on and I just follow along,'' says Correa. He started laying down his internal soundtrack during streetside jams in the rougher neighborhoods of Medellin, Colombia, where his family lived until it moved to Miami when he was 15. In high school, he was a breakdancer, but also moved to salsa, fell in love with reggae, got down to Miami bass, rediscovered Colombian cumbia. Along the way, his father, a timbal player with Fruko y Sus Tesos, one of Colombia's top salsa bands, introduced him to piano, and then Correa discovered he could play just about anything.

At 25, he's one of the older musicians on this scene. He's a whirl of energy, spinning off projects and ideas. Four years ago, he co-founded Locos Por Juana, then launched Suenalo, which has a looser format, then Xperimento, which is completely improvisational. ''Music should have no rules,'' he says.


This year Locos was named the Best Latin Rock Band in the U.S. by Britain's BBC. Correa is fielding interviews with European media, putting together projects with artists from Spain, Miami and Argentina, and beginning to produce other artists.

He draws energy and ideas from a communal pool of talent. ''Miami is changing,'' Correa says. 'Everybody is stopping that `I'm better than you.' ... Now everyone is collaborating.''

Other, more mainstream acts share a similar sensibility. Los Bacilos, the Latin Grammy-winning Colombian-Brazilian-Puerto Rican trio, play a sophisticated mix of styles that merge in gorgeously crafted pop songs. Jorge Moreno, who produced Locos' first album, won the 2002 Latin Grammy for Best New Artist with an innovative, alternative pop-Cuban sound. But the loose, bohemian community of musicians that switch between bands like Suenalo and Locos is at the heart of this scene.

Javier Garcia grew up in Spain and Ireland with a Cuban father and an Irish mother, then came to Miami as a teenager. Now he mixes Cuban son and salsa, reggae, rock, funk -- even Haitian compas and Argentine cuarteto. He has an album coming out in January produced by Gustavo Santaolalla on Surco/Universal Latino, the same team behind Colombian rock star Juanes.

Whether these bands will have enough success to make an impact on the wider Latin music world, or change the perception of the Miami Latin sound as slick tropical dance pop remains to be seen. But the attention that Bacilos and the Spam All Stars have attracted gives hope to those coming up behind them.


''Bacilos put a hit on the radio and made us all believe we could do it,'' Correa says.

Among those banking that they can are the quartet of women who produce the Miami Latin Funk Festival. They've launched a record label, Soulas, and production company, EastonBravo, to foster and promote this new group of artists. Their first release will be Nacio, produced by Correa.

They're producing weekly jam sessions at Jazid on South Beach and at House, a new venue on Biscayne Boulevard.

Two of them, Liz Easton and Tanya Bravo, attended Coral Gables High School with Garcia and Moreno. Although they're novices in the music business, they have the enthusiasm and idealism of ardent fans. ''I think this is a major movement in the Latin music scene,'' says Bravo. ``It's an evolution of Latin music in today's urban culture.''

Partner Denise Galvez says they've had an enthusiastic response from commercial sponsors. ''Companies are realizing there's an audience and a market, Hispanics who are bicultural and bilingual, who grew up with all these different cultures,'' she says.

Adds Easton: ``We find so much talent the labels are not signing. We feel like we're holding this golden egg.''

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