How French Indie Label Scorpio Music's Founder Scored Global Hits Four Decades Apart, From 'Y.M.C.A.' to 'Mi Gente'
In the late 1970s, producers Henri Belolo and Jacques Morali were walking through Greenwich Village in Manhattan when they had an idea.
“We saw different types of character in bars,” Belolo tells Billboard over the phone from his office in Paris. “That’s how we decided to create a group that will represent the different characters of the American male. As we had the idea in the Village, we decided to call the group The Village People. Simple.” He admits that while the concept was there, “To write and produce the music that brings the idea to the top is another story.”
But to the top it went. The Village People scored a global hit with the classic “Y.M.C.A.,” a song Belolo says exploded across the world -- in addition to becoming a cultural touchstone, the song reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 chart in 1979, the biggest hit of the group's career. The recording was financed by Belolo’s Can’t Stop Productions Inc. (his second independent label), which he founded while on a trip to the States. The recordings were later licensed to Casablanca Records solely for U.S. distribution. “If you wanted to make it in this business and you [were already] hot in Europe, the dream was to be hot in America,” he says now.
Now, decades later at the age of 80, Belolo is at the helm of yet another worldwide success, J Balvin and Willy William's Latin dance track “Mi Gente,” which was released via his 41-year-old family-run label Scorpio Music jointly with Universal Music Latin/Republic. “I think ['Mi Gente'] sends an amazing message,” says Belolo's youngest of two sons, Anthony, who took over the label in 2010 at the age of 28. “‘Mi Gente’ is a French production with a Colombian singer and a French DJ featured on it. My wife likes to call it ‘global pop,’ and I think it sounds just right."
Much like his father, who at the ripe age of 23 was already representing the likes of James Brown, Anthony Belolo took an early interest in the music industry. In 2002, when he was only 20, he began interning at Scorpio Music and followed “every employer to learn everything, from music publishing and radio promotion to club promotion and label administration -- the full picture of our family’s company.”
Since taking over -- Anthony, 35, now runs the label with his older brother, Jonathan -- Scorpio has seen success with new additions to its roster since 2011 like Martin Garrix, Armin Van Buuren, Hardwell and others who align with the disco- and dance-driven label. But the mainstream reach of “Mi Gente” -- which became Scorpio’s highest-charting Hot 100 hit when it peaked at No. 19 on the chart dated Sept. 30 -- has been unparalleled.
French DJ Willy William signed to Scorpio the beginning of 2017 and, as Anthony says, “in just under four months, we were able to bring him to [the top].” The song hit the No. 2 spot on Hot Latin Songs, behind Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s monstrous hit “Despacito” feat. Justin Bieber, and made it to No. 1 on Latin Airplay (where it has stayed for 12 weeks).
Anthony recalls hearing “Mi Gente” for the first time in a Paris studio: “I knew it was going to be big, but never expected it to be that big,” he says. “I usually keep my expectations low so that I can be pleasantly surprised with the result, and here we are.”
So, how did an independent, family-run French label secure a massive mainstream Latin hit? “I think it all comes down to seeing Scorpio as a family rather than just a business,” Anthony says. “Being surrounded by the right people -- in my case, my family -- is really helpful. You have to keep your ears open all the time. Be curious about all-new music and trends, and travel a lot to keep an open mind. In the end, it all comes down to keeping great relationships.”
Adds Henri, “I may describe the Belolo family's way to work by only one word: Love. The love of music. The love of people. That’s very important. We are transmitting a message to the public, and we can do it successfully because we do it with love. No bullshit.”
Anthony does reveal one other secret to the label’s success -- his father’s intuition. “He listens to all the new signings at Scorpio, and you know what? He always predicts when a song is gonna be a hit,” he says. “He tells me, ‘Anthony, this is gonna be big.’ That’s what he said about 'Mi Gente' and that exploded. So, thanks daddy.”