A guitar player takes the stage. Her presence, the way she plays; full of life and passion, more for the music and less for the spotlight, draws you in. Her carefree attitude invokes an anachronistic spirit – Janis Joplin reincarnated with a Latin, neo-soul twist. She can break into a riff, a piano melody, a vocal harmony, or kick ass with a kazoo. That’s right – a kazoo. Singer-songwriter and full-fledged musician, Sol Ruiz’s free bird lifestyle has made her a staple in the Miami music scene.
She’s helped put the “tropical bohemia” on the map for budding indie artists and Latin hipsters alike, but what makes her unique is that she brings something for everyone. Like a psychedelic musical chameleon, her music changes from R&B/Latin hip-hop/soul, heard in “Rapapon,” to a light, folk/bluesy sound, heard in “Wedding Sound,” with incredible ease.
Remezcla.com caught up with Sol Ruiz fresh off a Southern tour (her favorite area to play) and ready to show Europe (England, France and Spain) her sick skills this summer.
Roots: Cuban-American with Spanish and Moroccan decent
Where do you live now? Miami Beach
Where are you answering these questions from? My house on the beach, by the window and a fish tank
Day job: Songwriter for EMI pub. I’ve written for Kumbia Kings and Noelia. I’m currently working on my own album.
Where were you and what were you doing 5 years ago? Five years ago, I was going to school for classical music, and touring with a band that was signed to Universal Music named Siete Rayo, an Afro-Cuban roots band. This is around the time when I started writing for other people as well.
Current obsessions/addictions: My obsession, lately, is trying to do an album in Spanish and another in English. Writing and playing are really the most dominant obsessions that I usually have.
Guilty pleasure(s): Staying up late.
Recent musical discovery: Edith Piaf. She is the French songstress that was portrayed in the movie, Le Vie en Rose. I sat with a friend of mine that translated the lyrics for me and I thought they were so amazing. I listened to her all night and morning. Another [discovery] that really blew me away was Feist. The vocals and lyrics are really unique and contemporary. It has its own vibe which is what I like to create in my own music.
Best recent meal: Joe Allens with my good friend Andy Peretz (thanks again!)
Movie that best represents your life: Has to be Alice in Wonderland.
Who is your favorite visual artist? Right now, my favorite is Renier Garboa, Eva Ruiz and Lydia Rubio, all contemporary artists based in Miami.
Do you have any tattoos? If so, explain them. I have “La Clave de Sol”, which is the G clef in music, on my left wrist and a birthmark in the shape of a moon.
Where would we find you on a Saturday afternoon? I love going to the beach and doing barbeques on Saturdays around my neighborhood.
Heroes (besides your parents)? Johnny Cash, for living his life to the fullest and still being a great performer.
What is your first memory performing? My parents stood me up on a table when I was about 8 and had me sing “Me and Bobby McGee,” by Kris Kristofferson, made famous by Janis Joplin.
I read you play the guitar, piano, and kazoo? Do you break out your kazoo skills for concerts? Hell yea.
Where is your favorite place to play? That’s hard to say. Well, locally, Tinta y Cafe and PS14, but nationally, I liked playing in San Francisco, in Half Moon Bay.
You come from a musical family and your mom opened an alternative bar on Calle Ocho – what was it like growing up? It was a very creative experience. My mom and dad let me draw on the walls, and my brother and sister played music and I would sing with them. We would write crazy kids songs. My parents just let us be kids and at the same time emphasized the importance of being an artist.
You’ve been lauded as a strong alternative musician (who happens to be female) and have been quoted encouraging women to be strong and “have balls” – do you enjoy the responsibility of being the voice of females in the alternative music scene and other aspiring female musicians out there?
I don’t think it’s a responsibility, I’m just being me and I like to do things outrageously. I don’t like to be closed into any type of genre or style and that’s what makes me and my music alternative. I think that aspiring female artist shouldn’t think so much about whether they are female or male. You just gotta do it all the same and be yourself no matter how many times people will try to make you [into] something that you’re not. Eventually, something will come along that makes you develop your own style.
Describe your sound in three words: Psychedelic Cuban Folk
What are your plans for ‘09? Traveling with my music and making a difference in the way people see things.
You’ve talked about your chemistry with Cuban songwriter Liset Alea, how did you end up working with her? EMI told me about her and she’s actually my friend from high school. So when I heard she was going to be in town from London, I jumped on [the] chance and started pumping out great songs with her.
You start a lot of your lyrics with a joke – what is your favorite joke? George Carlin has this book called Brain Droppings; it has a butch of jokes that will make you crack up.
How did you start “Folk U” open mic? I just liked the venue and location but unfortunately they’ve closed. I was only able to do it for a month. It was mostly for my people that I knew around town to have a chance what I do all the time.
Miami has been called “a growing tropical bohemia.” It’s the best mix in the country right now. There are so many diverse musicians here and so many types of genres to explore. I think the New York Times described it perfectly: a tropical bohemia. Miami is defining new genres for the rest of the world.
Do you feel part of an “alternative” or “folk” scene (Rachel Goodrich, etc)? Definitely. I think folk has a big influence on my music. I always listen to people like Bob Dyan, and Woodie Guthrie. It has a neo-hippie feel to it. When I play alone with my guitar, there is a lot of folk and delta blues influence that transcends. I don’t think that sticking to one thing now-a-days is the way to go. That’s why everything changes in music. I wish that I could just play everywhere, just with my guitar. I think that’s how I move people the most, but it is difficult to find places that just want guitar performances. They think it will be boring but what they haven’t seen me playing live.
If so, what artists are part of this scene? Nacho and Raffa and Renier are really all about [it].
Are Latinos open to this scene? Yeah, definitely. There is something called trova, which is Latin folk, which is the type of music that Silvio Rodriguez plays. There is a really big Latin hipster crowd in Miami, especially in Theatre de Underground over at Churchill’s.
What would you change? For Miami, I would like to see more venues to play folk and watch it. And as for me, I’d like to make my music worldwide.
What impact do you hope to make on England, France and Spain? My only goal is to shake ‘em and rock ‘em. I want to bring a piece of my influence to them and, of course, make people remember me. I want to make new fans and I think overseas is going to open a lot of doors. I just had to go with my gut on it.
Do you think your music will be influenced by your upcoming travels? No doubt. Once I get over there my goal is to meet the gypsies and play music with them. That’s always been a dream of mine. They have the most awesome voices. I think that will definitely shape my style somehow. I think in Paris I will learn French folk songs. They have such interesting themes for songs and I love the language.
What will you miss most about Miami while you’re gone? Oh man! I will miss rice and beans from moms houses (you can’t get it any better than from the house), my neighborhood, Normandy, that I grew up in and still happen to live from friends house to friends house, so I won’t have to sign a lease. You know how us troubadours do. My rockin’ chair that my friends painted, the beach, especially 83rd street, and of course Cuban coffee.
What makes someone a “cosmopolatino”? I think it has something to do with Latins that come to America that assimilate to American culture and live in cities where they set fashion trends and create their own scene.
Anything else you’d like to add? Courage is key.
To find out more about Sol Ruiz, check out her MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/solruiz