2004 Dallas Observer Music Awards

You voted. We counted. It's your favorite local acts, amplified.

The Latin Fire
Latin/Tejano

Every Sunday night at Monica's, you can find them. Packing the place with fans, swiveling their hips, taking those swift, traveling steps together: one-two-cha-cha-cha. "We want you dancing," goes one of Latin Fire's songs, and they mean business. Notice the insistence of the instruments: the wild peal of the trombone, the pleading of the percussion, the sha-sha-shake of the maracas. This is serious. If you're not careful, you're going to dance.

That's the risk you take when you see Latin Fire, the nine-piece salsa and merengue band spearheaded by David Flores, formerly the leader of Orquesta Carabalí. Flores grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in a musical family whose traditions and propulsive sounds he transported to Dallas, where he has been a fixture on the scene for two decades. Along with groups like Havana NRG (who placed second in one of the awards' closest races), Latin Fire provides the soundtrack for the still-popular salsa scene, adults whose idea of dancing involves neither pacifiers nor strobe lights. It's not a bad night out--good exercise, good people, good times. Makes you wonder why we don't dance more. Oh, that's right: We can't. --S.H.

Erykah Badu
Mark Graham
Erykah Badu
Al Dupree
Mark Graham
Al Dupree

Matt Pence
Producer

Every kid with a guitar has the dream. Platinum records, live CDs and an episode of Behind the Music minus the drug-riddled breakdown. Dallas musicians have the dream, too, and while it may not be as astronomical, it still includes things like record deals, successful tours and--for a lot of people--Matt Pence behind the boards. The Centro-matic drummer and Echo Lab co-owner has been serving up dreamlike album production for years, which is why you'll find him on just about every local band's wish list. While Dallas producers often take the "hip" lo-fi route or use ProTools to create a clean, precise sound, Pence nails the best of both. His studio refinement doesn't overpower the airy warmth of a live, non-computer-assisted take, and it just sounds right. Granted, his hands didn't touch many local projects this year, but Love You Just the Same, Centro-matic's 2003 LP, is proof enough of his prowess. Listen to "All the Lightning Rods" and try not to adore the way Pence coasts Will Johnson's voice atop sparse piano, guitar and backing vocals. Talk about dreamy. --S.M.

Watusi
Reggae

Just a few weeks ago, Watusi played another office party. During the band's break, I introduced myself to Jim Watusi, the band's slight, bearded front man.

"Any requests?" he asked, smiling. His rainbow knit cap covered a nest of blond dreads.

"'No Woman, No Cry'?" I offered with a cringe. My suggestion said it all: I know almost nothing about reggae. Reggae reminds me of tourism; reggae smells like incense and suntan lotion. But a few days before, Jim had sent me an e-mail inviting me to the show. Watusi, his band of 22 years, had once again been nominated for Best Reggae band, an honor it has shared over the years with Sub Oslo (a band Jim insists "is not actually reggae"). In the e-mail, he rightly pointed out that the Dallas Observer writes about his genre of choice exactly once a year, in this issue. We were missing a whole scene, he insisted, a world of blissed-out beats and syncopated rhythms. He didn't say it angrily or with accusation; he said it like a gentleman.

"You're probably sick of Bob Marley," I told him, possibly projecting.

"But you'd like to hear that song," he said, smiling. (He smiles a lot.) "And these people would like to hear it." He gestured to the crowd, who were sipping wine and eating salmon balls. He handed me a tambourine. "Are you going to join us?"

Whoa-ho, not so fast. I handed off the tambourine to a tipsy blond woman with a fondness for turning in circles and hitting her bottom. I stayed for only a few more songs; they were fun, but to be honest, I can't describe what, if anything, made each different. Is it me, or the reggae? Maybe with Jim's help, I can learn. --S.H.

Erykah Badu
Funk/R&B

Maybe she wins each year because she's the most recognizable name on the ballot and has been since 1997. If this is, indeed, a popularity contest, the woman with the most Grammys and Soul Train statues in her awards case and the most discs sold should win, ankhs down. Or maybe she wins because the international star remains the hometown girl above, beneath and around all; long after Edie and Norah and Lisa (Loeb, sorry) and Sara (Hickman, duh) got gone for good, the former Ms. Wright is probably some of y'all's next-door neighbor. And when she's not home, she's at the Black Forest Theater teaching dance class or giving a free show to the boys and girls from the neighborhood or in some South Dallas high school preaching the gospel of safe sex and clean living. Without her, Russell Simmons' Hip-Hop Action Summit would probably fly over Dallas on its way to Atlanta or Los Angeles; instead, said Simmons when we spoke last fall, "Erykah is an inspiration to so many people, [because] her staying in Dallas reminds people who live there they have an opportunity to be successful and also gives them a good feeling about themselves and their community."

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