Quick, Profitable Turnover Of Regional Mexican Acts Counter To Usual Latin Artist Development Process
In the past nine months, Billboard's Latin charts have been riddled with new names-names that refer to the caliber of a bullet, power, violence and bodyguards.
Beyond the fact that many of these new acts sing narcocorridos-danceable, accordion-laden songs that speak about drug dealers and their exploits-they're part of a bigger movement of regional Mexican acts that are building buzz and fan bases on the streets and online-before being signed by Latin labels with astounding velocity.
This week alone, three brand-new acts-Calibre 50, Grupo Violento and Voz de Mando-have songs in the top 25 of Billboard's Regional Mexican Airplay chart. In addition, Voz de Mando is a finalist in the new Latin artist category for the Billboard Latin Music Awards (see story, page 4), even though its first album was released only last May.
The quick-and profitable-turnover of these groups is counter to the painstaking and expensive process of developing Latin acts, particularly in the pop field, where usually no more than a couple of new artists break in any significant manner on the sales chart each year.
Regional Mexican music, however, has long thrived on the A&R savvy and developmental work of small, independent labels and the acts themselves. Now, when major labels have increasingly less time and fewer resources, these efforts are more noticeable. Here are five acts that have demonstrated chart power in the last year.
1 Gerardo Ortiz
Perhaps the poster child for this movement, Ortiz is now a fixture on the regional Mexican charts-his debut album, "Ni Hoy Ni Mañana," debuted at No. 5 on Top Latin Albums in July. He's signed to Los Angeles-based indie Del Records, which in turn licenses much of its product to Sony. "Ni Hoy" scanned nearly 3,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan, notching one of the top three highest-selling debut weeks by new Latin artists in 2010. Ortiz has ridden his chart success on the strength of the album, currently at No. 18 on the Regional Mexican Albums chart.
2 Voz De Mando
Los Angeles-based quintet Voz de Mando's new video kicks off with the group in a cemetery, ostensibly lamenting the murder of a friend. Many pickup trucks and guns later, we know revenge is under way. But previous videos, consisting simply of tracks playing over still pictures (the clip for "Estrategias de Guerra" [War Strategies] features a photo of armed men on the backs of pickup trucks), garnered millions of YouTube views and led regional Mexican powerhouse label Disa to sign the group to a 360 deal. Voz de Mando has released four albums in five months, beginning with "Con la Nueva Federacion," which debuted in May at No. 9 on Top Latin Albums (peaking at No. 7), and ending with "Con la Mente en Blanco," which bowed at No. 7 in November. But don't be fooled by the narcocorrido theme. The members are all seasoned musicians who have crafted complex, tight arrangements for their songs that should outlast the trendiness of the lyrics.
3 Alfredo Olivas
Sonora, Mexico, native Olivas, better-known as Alfredito Olivas or "El Patroncito" (the Little Boss), was only 16 years old when he drew the attention of Disa A&R director Nelson Mendoza. At the time, many of Olivas' songs were already on YouTube, matched up with backdrops of sometimes gory pictures. Olivas has his youth going for him and his writing abilities; he pens most of his own material and his 360 deal with Disa includes a publishing pact with Universal. Olivas' first album, "El Patron," was released in January on Fonovisa and has yet to hit the charts, but first single "Las Vacaciones del Jefe" (The Boss' Vacations)-which starts with the line "I haven't killed anyone . . . lately"-is slowly rising on the Regional Mexican Airplay chart and this week sits at No. 31.
4 Los Mas Buscados
Although the members of Los Mas Buscados (the Most Wanted) hail from Mexico, they formed the band-which blends accordion with banda's tuba and the electric guitar-while attending Paramount (Calif.) High School. The group, discovered in Los Angeles by manager Edmundo Mendieta (he also handles Larry Hernandez, whose album "16 Narco Corridos" was the top-selling set by a new artist on the Latin charts in 2009, according to Nielsen SoundScan), launched as a corrido act. Nine tracks on the group's debut album, "Amor Fresh," released in September on Fonovisa, are corridos, but the lone ballad, "Amor Fresa," is perhaps the strongest track. The group is signed to a 360 deal, motivated in part by its strong management team.
5 El Bebeto
Not everything is bullets and drugs in the new regional Mexican scene. El Bebeto, freshly signed to Disa, is being billed as the new Espinoza Paz thanks to his romantic, troubadour-style songs. The video for first single "Eres Mi Necesidad" already has more than 1 million views on YouTube. The artist was originally signed in Mexico by indie Latin Power Music, which then took him to Disa. El Bebeto's U.S. debut album is expected in the coming months.