With the rise of hybrid genres like merengue electronico climbing the overall Latin charts, it can often seem like the Latin industry is in danger of ignoring tropical music in favor of its trendier pop offspring. It's lucky, then, that tropical music has found boosters in a handful of fierce imprints, like independent Top Stop Music.
The label, headed by CEO Gregory Elias and president Sergio George, presented its own showcase at Grand Central in downtown Miami last night as part of the Billboard Latin Music Conference. The six artists performing ranged from emerging, like boy band 5 Solz, to legendary, like salsero titan Tito Nieves. All, however, proved that the tropical segment is as healthy as ever, and even capable of some innovation.
Top Stop Music recording artists 5 Solz, Leslie Grace, Jonathan Moly with Top Stop Music co-founders Sergio George (center) and Gregory Elias (second from right) (Photo: Arnold Turner)
George and Top Stop VP of label operations George Zamora held court in a VIP corner sipping Buchanan's scotch and positioned for the best view of the stage. There, the evening's MC introduced the first act as "music for women" -- though, more accurately, it might have been for teenage girls, as Miami pinups 5 Solz took the stage with their romantic, R&B-style harmonies over energetic bachata dance beats, complete with bilingual lyrics on tracks like "Sexy Attitude."
Jonathan Moly rocking the house. (Photo: Arnold Turner)
Jonathan Moly came next and, despite his Strokes-like rocker style, offered more heartthrob crooning with more salsa-heavy beats and choreographed backup dancers. Later, more-established heartthrob Toby Love, who's not afraid to wear sunglasses indoors, kept up the romantic vibe alive with bachata ballads. Jorge Villamizar, meanwhile, provided a little stylistic left-turn for the evening. Formerly of monster pop-rock act Bacilos, his set veered more towards guitar-driven pop than strict tropical sounds. And, in a rare moment of vallenato vibes he invited Colombian singer Silvestre Dangond onstage to close his set as they performed a cover of Bacilos' old hit, "Mi Primer Millón."
Toby Love (left) and Jorge Villamizar (photo: Arnold Turner)
Leslie Grace, the youngest female to ever reach number one on the Billboard Latin charts, offered probably the best hopes for bachata crossover among the bunch. Taking a page from the Prince Royce playbook, she performed bachata-fied covers of oldies "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" (her number-one hit) and "Be My Baby." Like Royce, she performed these almost entirely in English, letting the percussion and rhythms add the Latin flair.
From left: Tommy Page, VP artist & brand partnerships, Pandora; Yina Bravo, director, worldwide marketing, MaterCard; Heidi Browning, SVP, strategic solutions, Pandora Internet Radio; Bob Weil, Billboard associate publisher, east coast; and Billboard's Gabrielle Zieger and Scott Williams. (Photo: Arnold Tuner)
Ruben Rodriguez of the marketing-oriented RAM Talent Group, and Roberto Somoza of World Clique management, gathered for the Salsa king’s Tito Nieves’ headlining set. The Puerto Rican native came out swinging with a massive band blasting his biggest-ever hit, the bilingual 1996 single "I Like It Like That." As he segued into more straightforward, Spanish-language salsa fare, the industry crowd, until now fairly staid, broke out into spontaneous partner dancing. The evening's performers crowded towards the front, alongside other like Billboard Latin Music Awards 2013 nominees Grupo Treo.
Top Stop's Sergio George (left) and George Zamora (Photo: Arnold Turner)
Recent Grammy winner for best Tropical Latin Album, Marlow Rosado, looked on with his master engineer, Michael P. Lazarus of Latin Pulse Music. "Of course I'm going to come to see a dear friend, Tito Nieves, and support Sergio George, who does what I do -- tropical music," said Rosado. "Tropical music is doing great -- I just got an American Grammy, not a Latin Grammy, for doing it. But we are doing whatever we can to get younger people to listen to salsa."
Billboard's spectacular events team (from left): Taylor Johnson, Andrea Martin, Nicole Carbone, Juliet Dickey, Jessica Jennings, Emily Angle. (Photo: Arnold Turner)
Perhaps younger folks will get be so inspired by Top Stop's upcoming documentary and CD/DVD bundle, Salsa Giants. The label debuted a trailer for the film before Nieves' set, and the film plays like a who's-who of salsa legends. Nieves, Marc Anthony, Oscar D'Leon, Luis Enrique, and Willy Chirino are just some of the names featured in the project, which comes out June 25.