Thirteen years ago, artist and musician Ruben Millares started the band Smiling Gums. More than a decade later, the act is going strong and making it on the radio airwaves. The group will be playing live at the 88.9 FM WDNA Jazz Gallery this weekend. Performing with a six-piece ensemble, including Millares on guitar and vocals, Javier Millares on organ and vocals, Luis de la Vega on bass, Gio Montanez on drums, Alan Reyna on timbales, and Tany Gil on congas, their Cuban roots will definitely show through the rock 'n' roll music.
WDNA 88.9 FM is a local radio station that for more than 30 years has been providing jazz, world music, and blues to South Florida. Bringing together sound and visual arts, Millares' artwork will also show at the gallery space.
Millares says that the band's music reflects its ancestry and upbringing. "I describe the music as the first-generation Cuban-American sound, because the music is a product of growing up in an exiled Cuban household with Cuban traditions and customs, immersed in American culture." He grew up listening to classic rock but also to Fania and '70s Latin music, and, of course, Afro-Cuban jazz on WDNA.
"I remember running around WDNA studios as a little kid out by the Palmetto and Bird Road, before they moved to the 72nd Avenue Warehouse District and now to Coral Way. Those Latin jazz influences came from Mongo Santamaria, Bebo Valdez, Dizzie, Celia, Ray Barretto, Federico Britos, and others."
The art component of the affair is an exhibition called"Man or War," which features ink drawings of a repeated image with text. There will also be mobile sculpture and video elements to the show. "I am focused on the conflict of man. It is a simple statement, man or war. It's not a question but a truth. In the end, one will prevail," Millares says. War isn't just armed conflict but also war against time and the environment, war within ourselves. Millares is working on balance. "In my art process, I find myself balancing between repetitive mundane activities and free-form expression."
Why the need to incorporate the music and art into the show? "I make art and music because I have no other choice. It is what keeps me level. What keeps me in tune, if you will. I have to sing and play to release energy and pent-up emotions."
Millares is passionate about both of his endeavors, and this WDNA show is a wonderful way to bridge the two talents and the two heritages under which he was raised. "I ended up with a perfect cross of two cultures that is evident in the way I express myself through the guitar. The lyrics stem from my observations of life growing up and are mostly related to personal experiences. I internalize the world around me and try to make sense of it. Sometimes it's political, sometimes it's preachy, sometimes it's clever and witty, and sometimes it's zen."
The performance will take place at 2921 Coral Way, Miami, on Saturday, March 24, and air on 88.9 WDNA at 7:30 p.m. The opening takes place on March 31 from 7 to 10 p.m. at the same location. Visit wdna.org for information on becoming a member and supporting jazz radio.