Descarga (des kar ga) n. 1. the act of discharging. 2. an ejection or emission. 3. a release or dismissal. 4. the removal of an electric charge, as by the conversion of chemical energy to electrical energy.
In Miami’s music lexicon, descarga is slang for jam session – the free-spirited, ebb and flow, simultaneously structured and improvisational ying-yang of instrumentalists elevating the audience towards a higher decibel of consciousness.
Andrew Yeomanson also known as DJ Le Spam, the guru behind the Spam Allstars, has been producing electronic descarga since the mid-nineties. And the concoction of saxophone, flute, trombone, electric guitar, and timbales, amid the deep steady beats from turntables and a sampler has been a delicious ahead-of-its-time fusion of Caribbean, Freestyle, Funk, and Soul.
I sat with him for a few hours recently at his North Miami home. We drank espressos sweetened with agave nectar (his preferred sweetener) and then we were off.
I was really into heavy metal in high school. All I ever played was metal since I got on electric guitar. It was, like, full distortion.
I just didn’t know how to play guitar without fuzz.
Back in those days (he grew up in London), Yeomanson said he would buy any heavy metal record on sale. Black Sabbath, Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden, Slayer. He said the dark, satanic mythology really captured his imagination as a rebellious teenager.
My parents hated it. I come from a Catholic family.
After graduating from high school in the UK, he moved to Canada and attended a university in Toronto to study liberal arts. But it became hopeless.
I got to the point where I was like, I should just start waiting tables now. Why wait till I have a fuckin’ liberal arts degree?
He dropped out after two years, spent a few months biking across Europe, and then, on a whim, decided to move to Miami. By 1991, he was crashing at his aunt’s West Miami condo. He quickly discovered music particular to Miami.
Once I got here the Latin and Haitian culture became very interesting to me, particularly the Haitian culture because I hadn’t been around that anywhere I had lived. I came across some records [at local record shops] that had the voodoo stuff. That was completely different, very African.
He said the Haitian Creole music spoke to him in a visceral way. He wondered if there were any local bands that were merging his instrument of choice, the guitar, with voodoo drums. One evening at Steven’s Talkhouse on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach – the local it-place for live music in the nineties – he met some members of the Haitian group Lavalas. They exchanged numbers.
Two weeks later, he received a call.
They said we have a gig at the Marlin Hotel for Chris Blackwell [of Island Records]. I didn’t know any of the Haitian’s band music.
It was totally crazy.
He played with Lavalas for about a year. Then he hooked up with singer-songwriter Nil Lara. From about 1994-98, Lara was the hottest musician in town, composing and performing his signature Afro-Cuban swag rock. Lara had a record deal with Capitol Records. Yeomanson joined the band as a rhythm guitarist and toured with the group across the U.S., Europe, and Asia.
But Yeomanson said the rock star lifestyle got old. And he wanted to start composing his own music and test-drive his ideas on the local scene. He found a small studio in Miami and every week he’d go and experiment with loops and sounds and beats.
It was totally free. I would make a loop and record different stuff over that, random stuff like infomercials or TV evangelists. It was very absurdist, I guess. That was kind of my approach at the beginning. It was like this crazy collage, very free form.
He formed Spam Allstars with some fellow musicians and in 1999 released a CD titled Pork Scratchings. At live gigs, he’d bring turntables and a sampler to play along with the bandmembers. A year later they released a second CD, Pigs in Space.
Then came Hoy Como Ayer.
In 2002, the Spam Allstars’ popularity blew up with the weekly Fuacata! parties in Little Havana. Calle Ocho was in the midst of a cultural renaissance championed by the Thursday night jams at the nightclub Hoy Como Ayer on 8th Street & 22nd Avenue.
The Spam Allstars performed on a crammed elevated stage in front of kitschy moving pictures projected on the wall behind them (think snippets of QUE PASA U.S.A.). On the dance floor, hipsters swayed and sweated next to 60-year-old abuelitos. It was both hip and nostalgic and it got a lot of national interest. The band was featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Rolling Stone Magazine. Mick Jagger stopped in one night. So did Prince.
[Hoy Como Ayer] is where everything really started to come together in terms of building an audience. That gig seemed to capture everybody’s imagination. Everybody wanted to see what was going on.
The band recorded a Fuacata! Live CD that would be nominated for a Latin Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental. That was an illusion, said Yeomanson.
Nevertheless, the Grammy nod made them a hot commodity. They toured throughout North America, including monthly residencies in New York and festivals in Montreal. Yeomanson could have cashed in with a large record company and a record deal. But he didn’t want that. He wanted to control his own music, remain independent, self-sufficient. So they slowed down a bit.
Besides, the band had a good thing in Miami.
I realized if this is where my hotdog stand is, if it works on this corner, then that’s where I’m gonna set it up. And that’s where we ended up with it.
A few years ago Yeomanson invested some of his earnings into building his own recording studio in his North Miami home. He named it City of Progress, taught himself how to work the mixing console and the track recorders, and has since produced several albums for dozens of musicians including Electric Piquete, Elastic Bond, Cleaveland Jones and Pee Wee Ellis.
As for Spam Allstars, a new record is in the works. It’s been five years since their last release, Electrodomesticos. He played two rough cuts from the new album. I was delighted to hear a pedal steel guitar (played by Roosevelt Collier of the Lee Boys) and keyboards, and new vocals. And the horns are still there. As are Yeomanson’s signature “808s”, the old-school beat making machine that helped make Miami Bass in the 1980s it’s very own sick, boom-boom subgenre. (He likes to keep “a certain caveman simplicity” in his music.)
The band continues to play shows with regularity from Key West to Orlando. They still play Hoy Como Ayer every Thursday night.
With the studio work and record producing picking up, does Yeomanson ever give any thought to cooling off the live gigs?
Not a chance.
Playing music live, there is no feeling like that. I never want to let that go. It’s important. That’s how people get together. It’s a function of society in a sense, playing music for people. It goes beyond making money, it goes beyond being popular. People need it. It’s not something you can just take for granted.
Music is more important than that.
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