Miami is synonymous with perpetual change. The steady influx of new arrivals provides a wide gamut of cultural perspectives. Because the city was created and developed as a tourist destination, many Miamians formed a perfectly hospitable disposition.
This accommodating attitude works wonderfully in providing tourists an amenable canvass where they can construct their own memories, but sadly this flexible mindset sometimes diminishes the sparkle of our homegrown talents. And while it is certainly true that Miami’s roots don’t run as deep as some other noted creative hotbeds, the originality, skills and swagger of some of Miami’s artists are second to none.
After the city’s trials and tribulations of the Cocaine Cowboys plagued the 1970s and ’80s, the few that survived and maintained residency here — along with the bold few that ventured to the area during those turbulent years (when Time magazine labeled us “Paradise Lost”) sought a new identity for the Magic City.
Andrew Yeomanson, had all the traits that made up a perfect Miami implant during that era.
He had a dream but its course wasn’t set in stone. He wanted to play music but he hadn’t quite figured out what kind. The son of an English father and Venezuelan mom, Yeomanson, who split his youth between Canada, Europe and Latin America, found Miami eclectic enough to settle down. By doing so, he and his band, the Spam Allstars, would go on to redefine the soundtrack of Miami.
Yeomanson’s musical journey mirrored the political, social and cultural currents that swept through the city. His entry to the music scene was in 1990, when he began jamming with local Haitian musicians (some of whom were his co-workers at a chain restaurant where he bussed tables.)
“My grandparents lived in Haiti for a while and so I was taken by the percussion of Voudou. I wanted to mix those rhythms with modern guitar arrangements,” Yeomanson explained when we spoke this week. After sundry jam sessions where he became acquainted with Haitian musicians, Yeomanson wound up playing lead guitar in a band called “Lavalas.”
Unsuspectingly, he found himself smack dab in the middle of heated Haitian political feuds which extended onto the streets and nightclubs of Miami. “Lavalas Band was definitely hurt by the heavy politics. The outbursts of emotions, (both pro and con) that I witnessed while playing with Lavalas, I’ve never experienced since,” he shared.
When Lavalas disbanded Yeomanson then tapped into the burgeoning Cuban-American identity movement that was flourishing by the late 1990s. The sound of this Cuban-American wave was embodied by Nil Lara, whose spirited, heartfelt lyrics and unique blend of modern rock licks with traditional Latin American sounds garnered him a faithful following. Lara appreciated Yeomanson’s work in Lavalas and asked him to join his band. Once again, Yeomanson was front and center in one of Miami’s most impactful cultural scenes.
It was during his stint with Lara that he discovered Miami’s soul sound of the 1960s and ’70s.
“A friend gave me a tape of Little Beaver’s “Party Down” album and the rest was history,” said Yeomanson, who had always been an avid vinyl collector. He became consumed by the sound and “became obsessed” with buying every Miami Soul record he could find. During his off time from Lara’s band, he would scour every second-hand record store from here to Palm Beach.
It was also during this period that he began creating loops of these funky sounds and created an experimental project, which he comically named the Spam Allstars, after an old radio advertisement for the meat by product. He admits that “he had zero expectations for this hybrid sound. I assumed that I would continue to play guitar for other bands to make ends meet and do this Spam thing for myself.”
Yeomanson’s unpretentious nature and incredible musical daringness coupled with the motley crew of talented musicians he brought together have made the Spam Allstars one of Miami’s signature sounds as they successfully imbedded their original funkified groove into the cultural identity of a whole generation of Miamians.