Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Miami Beach- Cuban crossovers and the Beach Boys

Is it '07 already? I was just getting used to the idea of "2006." Oh well... I spent the end of December in Miami Beach, thinking that I'd escape the cold but thanks to global warming, the temp there only beat out Gotham by about 20 degrees.

On the plus side, I got to indulge in some Cuban culture. The Little Havana section of Miami had a wonderful street fare, featuring gallery receptions, arts 'n' crafts and bands playing on the street, sidewalk and make-shift stages. What was also striking were the anti-Castro sentiments that run deep there (witness the picture of the happy gent on the left). I almost wanted to say "Listen, the best way to kill off the bastard is to open the place to U.S. businesses" but it wouldn't do any good, not in a place that had a stone monument to the people who died at the Bay of Pigs.

Another stop was at a "Hear" store. It turns out to be a Starbucks in disguise with the Hear Company setting up listening booths and a mini-record store on the side. The thing is, the place with packed with music junkies (on two weekend nights, no less), including me and my girlfriend. What I didn't notice was a lot of people actually buying CD's though (most of the customers were chugging java). Starbucks has been wise to exploit a music angle at their stores and has led to good sales for some CD's and this was just more proof of that, especially as you could listen to entire songs and not just 30 second snatches. After spending some time in the small world music listening area, I indulged in and then picked up two recent albums, Ali Farka Toure's blues-soaked Savane and Boubacar Traore's gently acoustic African Nights collection.
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In comparison, a record chain store down the street wasn't doing as well. As we walked past it, we weren't even sure it was open because it was so desolate. When we finally went in, we did our usual routine at the listening areas. One thing that caught my eye was this CD you see to your left by the Klazz Brothers (from 2004). It seemed like a cute kitschy novelty, mixing Cuban music with classical, so I had to hear it for myself. To my surprise, it wasn't just a nice novelty but an enjoyable album, especially for anyone (i.e. me) who isn't too familiar with Cuba or old-school classical music (you know, the old European masters). You get Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven, Chopin, all made into Latin dance music. But it's actually really good. Not only do you know the tunes even if you're not a classical buff but you also get jazzy versions of the songs. Sure, it goes against heresy for some but for us uncouth slobs, it's a delight. The follow-up they did a few years later is a little too sentimental and gloppy though so stick with this one.

And finally, the music I kept hearing around the stores again and again was... the Beach Boys? Granted, Miami bass is more than two decades old now but the place does have some tradition for music. Though most people don't remember, Lynyrd Skynyrd is from FL as is Tom Petty, N Sync, KC and the Sunshine Band, Dashboard Confession, Iron and Wine and of course Gloria Estefan (not to mention Cannibal Corpse). While we did hear some bass-heavy techno pumping from some clubs, it was the Wilson brothers that we kept hearing again and again everywhere else.

How do you explain that? It's simple really. You have the sunny, warm climate and the beach there just like you do in California. That's enough connection to make them musical heros in Florida even though everyone knows that they're from the other coast. Sure it makes sense but it's also kind of sad that all of the other music produced by the state is still eclipsed by this. And needless to say, they're fans of the early BB stuff and not the later arty stuff so you'll hear "Surfin' Safari" endlessly and not Pet Sounds. Even worse, one of the current versions of "the Beach Boys" (this one with Mike Love and assorted younger friends) was touring there and a radio station was promoting the show with free tickets. It's enough to make you fondly recall one of the Jesus and Mary Chain's best songs: "Kill Surf City."


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