Backbeat at Billboard Latin Music Conference: Mas y Mas Música Showcase Highlights Burgeoning Crossover Hopefuls

From left: Artists Nubia Tamayo, AlfaBeta and Pumva during the Billboardin Latin Music Conference's Mas y Mas Música Showcase (Michael Seto)

At the Billboard Latin Music Conference's Mas y Mas Música Showcase yesterday evening, hopeful performers aimed clearly for the top of the Latin Pop Songs charts -- or even the Hot 100. Held on the third-floor ballroom of the J.W. Marriott Marquis hotel in downtown Miami, the showcase featured a handful of artists whose sounds boasted roots in Latin styles but possibly seemed poised for crossover. Call it the Pitbull effect -- male rappers boasted linen suits and rhymed over dance beats; EDM, R&B, merengue, and hip-hop freely commingled.

Showcasing artist Angel Lopez (Michael Seto)

Because of this, some industry pros used this happy hour time to scout for possible future partnerships. "Our music strategy has shifted from just focusing on iconic artists," said Shanna Parra, PepsiCo's regional marketing manager for the Latin American region. "Now we're looking to see how we can leverage the muscle we have as a brand to help elevate rising stars. We're looking for some with potential -- good talent, but also acts that have somewhat of a structure, like a management team, a record label, and priority to elevate from an industry standpoint."

That meant some musicians and producers showed up not to perform, but just to press the flesh. Among these were composer artist Eli Palacios, along with his occasional production partners MadMusick. They created "Limbo," Daddy Yankee's monster smash for Zumba Fitness, now enjoying its 13th straight week at number one on the Latin Pop Songs chart. "We're from Puerto Rico originally, but we're here because we want people to now we're staying in Miami now," said Gabriel "Josh" Rodriguez, Palacios' manager and president of Secret Code Music, LLC. "We're here working with artists like Victor Manuelle and Chino y Nacho, and Eli has a new artist single out, 'Temperatura.'"

Joe Granda, president and CEO of Granda Entertainment (left) with Andre Marcel, showcasing artist (Michael Seto)

Most of the 10 performers on the bill clearly had a team already, appearing already with backup dancers and choreography to support debut singles. Puerto Rican Kevin Riva, just 15 years old, seemed like the bachatero Justin Bieber, sporting skate-kid baggy jeans and crooning a couple of slick, bilingual love songs over tropical dance beats. Miami-based JEO, meanwhile, opted purely for flash. Her team of seven backup dancers, plus five breakdancers and tumblers, nearly dwarfed her onstage as she performed some radio-ready dance-pop that sounded "Latin" only in its chosen language.

Fashion designer Guio di Colombia (left), with artist Angello Black (Michael Seto)

Among the acts from urban Latin sectors, there was a clear shift away from reggaeton and towards merengue electronico, a new style that digests that tropical genre for a global club dance floor. Cuban-born, Miami-based artist Pumva, born Renier Aguilera, embraced the style fully, lacing it with easy raps and the occasional hip-hop beat.

Linen-suited singer/rapper AlfaBeto, meanwhile, mixed up all of the above styles for one of the most energetic sets of the evening. Born in Mexico and now based in Brownsville, Texas, he combined rumbling proper house beats, rhymes in English and Spanish, merengue electronico, and even Mexican tribal in a booming, bass-heavy brew. Managed by Javier Bordaje, he's released his music so far on his own indie imprint, Centenario Music Group, and said he was showcasing to seek new opportunities. "I want my music and talent to be heard by everybody who can understand what I'm saying," he said.