José Manuel Pinto was a professional soccer goalkeeper for two decades, playing with champions Barcelona FC from 2008 to 2014, when he retired from the game to produce music. Now he’s scored his first Top Ten track on the Billboard charts. His “La Habana,” featuring Cuban reggaeton artist El Taiger, is included on the Fate of the Furious soundtrack, and hits no. 5 this week on the Latin Rhythm Digital Sales chart, as well as no. 7 on the Latin Digital Songs Sales chart.
“It’s music time for me,” says Pinto, who has gone by the name Pinto “Wahin” since starting his full-time producing and songwriting career. His homebase is his studio in his native Cadiz, in Southern Spain, where at age nine he won a breakdancing contest; he played soccer on his school team. He played guitar and wrote songs as a teenager, while training in Seville’s Real Betis football academy, and he made his debut with that team in 1994.
Pinto, now 41, was known for his mindful approach to goalkeeping, and also for winning friends. During his eight years on the Barça team, he introduced a players’ greeting known as the “cobra kiss,” and also produced a song, by Spanish hip hop group Delahoja (“Nuestra B.S.O.”), which became a locker room anthem and favorite of Leo Messi’s.
While still on the team, Pinto started a record label and management and production company called Wahin Makinaciones.
“All of the guys knew what I was going to do,” says Pinto, referring to his future in music. “They saw me studying my sound engineering books on the plane when we traveled.” He has a university degree in sound engineering and a masters in musical production.
“A lot of people know me as a soccer player,” Pinto tells Billboard. “But I was composing songs when I was 14. I’ve always liked music and I’ve always liked sports.
“Music always helped me be a better athlete,” he adds. “Even when you’re playing First Division, you have bad days. Music has always been an escape valve for me.”
Pinto was among the engineers who worked on the 2016 winner for best flamenco album at the Latin Grammys, Niña Pastori’s Amame Como Soy. But he says if he has a niche, it’s urban pop — particularly the reggaeton dance pop sound that currently dominates the U.S. Latin charts. He works frequently in Miami, and in Los Angeles, where he met DJ Ricky Luna — his producing partner on “La Habana,” and a previous track, “Papi Papi” which was heard in the Ice Cube-starring comedy Ride Along 2.
The former footballer recently provided music for a new documentary about the rise of the Barcelona team, called Take The Ball Pass The Ball, to be released in the fall. But Pinto says that though he still gets offers to play football, the game is over for him.
“I follow football very, very much at a distance,” he says. “Because when I”m working in the studio I don’t have time to stop and watch a match. I’m 100 percent focused on music now. I’ve experienced everything I wanted to experience in football, and now I want to put everything I have to realize my dream to make music; I want to enjoy it the way I enjoyed football.”
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