For Frankie Midnight, breaking into Miami’s live music scene wasn’t easy.
His music tended toward classic rock and grunge — Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Nirvana and the like – not typical for a Black musician.
“My band was predominantly Black, and we were not following the stereotype of African-Americans being stereotyped to be marginalized musically, which is either R&B or hip-hop or reggae,” said Midnight, a 30-year-old Miami native whose real name is Cory Ferguson II. “It was new to people, but they loved it. We were really respected because we were really good.”
(For more on the subject, read “Context of a Generation helps musicians in need.”)
While the Miami music scene is well-developed and nationally known, it’s also at times stratified by ethnicity and stereotype. Some Black musicians feel pressed to stay within their lanes.
“We live in a world where color is always pushed, so I’m not colorblind,” said Midnight, who started playing shows in 2009 with his band The Midnight Hour at Churchill’s Pub, the legendary Little Haiti dive bar and music venue. “It became a ‘How do you even know about that band type of thing?,’ and I never knew how to feel about that. I just get lost in my music, something like that shouldn’t matter.”
Quiana Major agrees.
“I know when I was a kid if you listened to rock music, that was a lifestyle choice,” said Major, a 27-year-old solo performer who works with “Context of a Generation,” a local non-profit supporting emerging minority musicians. “The kids around you are not gonna like it. But, for me, it was all about blasting Rage Against the Machine, and I didn’t care who had anything to say about it.”
Now, Major makes music inspired by the artists she loved as a teen. She draws inspiration from the likes of artists spanning from larger artists like Kings of Leon, Alanis Morissette and U2, to local artists like The Remyz, Mustard Service, My Friend Shawn and Soft Cricket.
While the 305 is most famously known for its bustling rap, reggaeton and techno communities, preferences have changed since Midnight and Major started creating music. Both artists credit younger generations of concertgoers for changing the narrative.
“We’ve got to stay relevant and ahead of the curve,” said Midnight. “The same classic rock I used to play when I first started just doesn’t cut it anymore. I feel like we’re headed in a more experimental direction.”
Venues and booking agents have also influenced what genres are popular in Miami.
Juan Seijas, who performs under the name “Wan,” thinks Miami needs more independent venues.
“A lot of venues are not open for multiple-hour gigs, and certainly not original music at that,” he said. “I feel like now it’s like we’re walking on eggshells to even play an hour at a restaurant. But that’s changing. There’s people trying to build from the ground up. You can do your own thing, and it’s great.”
Backroom Sessions, a local event company, is trying to change that.
“I do believe Miami’s very progressive,” said company founder Bause Mason. “We’re not as behind as other places. A lot of cool sounds are coming out of here, and we want to show as much of that as we can.”
Backroom Sessions wants to put “the bottom of the map, on the map,” said Mason, who creates pop-ups at local venues where emerging artists can showcase their talents and multiple events weekly.
“I always say we’ve never had the same lineup twice,” he said. “I’m very proud of that. It’s to give different people different shots.”
Mason makes a point of saying that Backroom’s shows and events don’t have all-white lineups.
“We make sure that every single person in this lineup is some way different, whether it be their gender, race or anything like that,” he said.
Backroom Sessions and Context of a Generation’s efforts to diversify emerging artists, especially artists of color, are making a difference.
“I’ve definitely seen a lot more people, brown people. I love it. And I’ve seen a lot more women playing instruments and forming bands, which is super cool,” said Seijas. “It’s a lot different from back in the day when I was playing.”
Changing the narrative isn’t easy, but it’s a part of the process. But, Context of a Generation’s Quiana Major knows it will take time.
“If you love good music, it takes research. It takes going outside and talking to different people,” she said.