Revealed: Billboard’s 2021 Latin Power Players

Noah Assad, Bad Bunny’s longtime manager, has helped the Puerto Rican superstar conquer the world without compromising — or losing his independent streak — which puts him atop Billboard’s annual list of executives leading the charge within the genre.

Last September, in the thick of the pandemic, Bad Bunny livestreamed a performance from atop a flatbed truck decked out like a subway car that meandered through the streets of New York, thrilling fans and puzzling pedestrians all the way from Yankee Stadium, in the Bronx, to the Harlem Hospital Center. Over 10 million viewers watched the Univision-produced show stream on its Uforia platform, as well as Bad Bunny’s YouTube channel. And like so many things Bad Bunny does — including surprise-releasing albums — the spectacle came with little warning, capturing the sense of spontaneity and fun that are central to the chart-topping artist’s appeal.

That approach has been the hallmark of Bad Bunny’s manager, Noah Assad, since they started working together in 2016. “Our day-to-day is we go eat, we share, we laugh, and, all of a sudden, we go into work mode,” says Assad, 31. “We brainstorm, and if the idea comes, it comes. We take everything a day at a time. We don’t treat it as rocket science.”

This nonchalant demeanor belies the meticulous planning that goes into pulling off their vision — and the unimpeachable results. In the past two years, Bad Bunny has become the most successful Latin artist in the world and Spotify’s 2020 most streamed artist globally in any language. He was Billboard’s top Latin artist of the year, according to MRC Data, and last December, El Último Tour del Mundo became the first all-Spanish album to top the Billboard 200 in the chart’s 63-year history. Prior to that, the highest-charting Spanish album was his YHLQMDLG, which debuted at No. 2 in March 2020.

Read the full profile on Assad here.

Alejandro Duque
President, Warner Music Latin America
Gabriela Martínez
Managing director, Warner Music Latina 
Ruben Abraham
VP marketing, Warner Music Latina
Txema Rosique
VP A&R, Warner Music Latina
Hector Rivera
VP A&R, Warner Music Latina

Duque became head of Warner Music Latin America (after Iñigo Zabala stepped down) as Warner bet big on developing talent in hot genres through its partnership with Rancho Humilde, with artists Junior H and Natanael Cano debuting at No. 1 on the Regional Mexican Albums chart. Warner Music Latina and Warner Records jointly signed an exclusive deal with Puerto Rican phenom Myke Towers and his indie label, Whiteworld Music, and Warner Music Latina also signed Venezuelan rising star Micro TDH. Meanwhile, longtime Warner Music Latina act Justin Quiles continued charting with tracks like “Jeans” and “Loco,” from his new album that was released in August.

The power of Latin music, in a word: “Boundless” – Duque

Jesús López
Chairman/CEO, Universal Music Latin America & Iberian Peninsula
Angel Kaminsky
President, Universal Music Latin
Salomón Palacios
Senior vp marketing and strategy, Universal Music Latin
Skander Goucha
Executive vp e-commerce, business development and digital, Universal Music Latin America & Iberian Peninsula
Antonio Silva
Managing director, Fonovisa Disa USA/Mexico; management, Fonovisa Disa/Universal Music Latin Entertainment
Elsa Yep
CFO/executive vp operations, Universal Music Latin America & Iberian Peninsula

Illustration by Ryan Melgar

Under Jesús López, chairman/CEO at Universal Music Latin America and Iberian Peninsula, the company’s urban-leaning acts continue to chart throughout the globe, fluidly crossing barriers of language and genre.

While J Balvin and fellow Colombian Karol G may be Universal Latin’s most prominent success stories — Karol G scored her first No. 1 on Top Latin Albums with KG0516, the biggest week, by units, for a female-led album on the chart since 2017 — López says the company still thinks locally “so that our artists keep expanding their music outside their countries of origin.”

Via streaming, some of Universal’s brightest and youngest stars — including Colombia’s Sebastian Yatra (managed by Universal-owned GTS); Puerto Rico’s Jhay Cortez, Guaynaa and Feid; and Mexico’s Christian Nodal and Danna Paola — have done just that, achieving revenue-generating stardom. Regional Mexican labels Fonovisa and Disa also revamped their rosters with new signings such as Adriel Favela and his label, Esperanto, and Colombians Yeison Jiménez and Nabález.

And even as their touring was sidelined, legacy artists continued recording. “We are very proud of the achievements by artists who have created and released music during the pandemic, such as Juanes, Gloria Trevi, Alejandro Fernández, Alejandro Sanz and David Bisbal, among others,” says López.

As of Aug. 12, Universal’s U.S. label market share, including Disa and Fonovisa, stood at 24.65%, while as a distributor, it gobbled up a 36.83% market share, including the 5.73% share of Universal Music Group-owned distributor Ingrooves, according to MRC Data.

Beyond the U.S. market, executive vp e-commerce, business development and digital Skander Goucha led the expansion of Universal’s e-commerce business across Latin America and Iberia, and Universal now has direct-to-consumer operations in Brazil, Mexico and Spain, with more countries to launch this year. And CFO/executive vp operations Elsa Yep was instrumental in the launch of Virgin Music in Latin America, bringing that iconic brand to the region.

Afo Verde
Chairman/CEO, Latin-Iberia, Sony Music Entertainment
Alex Gallardo
President, U.S. Latin, Sony Music Entertainment
Maria Fernandez
COO/executive vp, Latin-Iberia, Sony Music Entertainment
Herb Payán
Senior vp digital strategy and auxiliary revenue, Latin-Iberia, Sony Music Entertainment
Rafael Arcaute
Global head of A&R, Sony Music Latin
Esteban Geller
Senior vp artist relations and marketing, U.S. Latin, Sony Music Entertainment

Illustration by Ryan Melgar

Sony Music Entertainment (SME) has had a year of explosive new Latin talent development combined with aggressive and flexible deal-making under chairman/CEO of Latin-Iberia Afo Verde.

Sony is home to Latin music’s biggest roster of stars: Maluma, Enrique Iglesias, Ricky Martin, Shakira, Carlos Vives, Romeo Santos and Marc Anthony, among others. All of them released new material, while a close partnership with Sony-owned distribution company The Orchard generated opportunities for creative marketing and exploitation of Latin repertoire. Sony and The Orchard combined had a 43.71% market share of the Latin market year to date in August.

“We worked closer [with The Orchard] than ever before, and we were able to provide A-class services to the talented Latin artistic community,” says Verde, who not only negotiated hybrid deals but is also personally involved in The Orchard-distributed and Sony-marketed product of artists like Ozuna and Anuel AA. Sony also expanded its international clout with the acquisition of Som Livre, Brazil’s leading independent domestic label, a move that ensures Sony’s domination of Latin America’s largest music market.

“We maintained a great number of releases, in a totally different environment, and with the passion for what we do intact,” adds Alex Gallardo, president of Sony Music, U.S. Latin, which scored global hits with the likes of Rauw Alejandro, Maluma and Natti Natasha, while SME COO/executive vp Latin-Iberia Maria Fernández worked on expanding Latin music’s footprint in international markets.

“During the last months, artists like Maluma, Camilo, Rauw Alejandro, Nathy Peluso and many others had significant growth outside the Latin region,” says Fernández.

Equally important, she adds, “The company has made a significant commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion. I am a member of task forces dedicated to these activities and completed a certification in this area from the University of South Florida to be better prepared to help create change.”

Despite the pandemic, says Verde, “we remained focused. We have such an amazing roster that produces mind-blowing music, and we’ve been able to help them develop their projects, release their music and position it globally for their fans to enjoy.”

Frabian Eli Carrion
CEO, Real Hasta La Muerte

Carrion has reveled in the success of Anuel AA and Ozuna’s joint album, Los Dioses, which debuted at No. 1 on the Top Latin Albums chart in February — after Anuel told Billboard that the pair had produced the set with a chart-topping bow in mind. Carrion’s recent achievements have extended beyond music. “I can’t believe that after two years of back-and-forth negotiations we were able to buy the Capitanes de Arecibo [basketball] franchise in Puerto Rico,” he says. “Owning a basketball team is another level of entrepreneurship that I’m excited to be tackling.”

The most important issue facing Latin music: “Staying relevant. A lot of people like to bring back sounds from the past, but we need to be pushing forward and not be afraid to try new things.”

Orlando “Jova” Cepeda
José “Tito” Reyes

Partners, Whiteworld Records

Whiteworld Records’ breakout star Myke Towers became one of the most streamed artists in the world in the past year, with 13 tracks on the Billboard Global 200 and nine top 10 hits on Hot Latin Songs. “This is something that we have worked hard for and [remained] consistent in putting out music, which was key,” says Cepeda of Towers, who was the subject of a bidding war that ended in an exclusive global distribution pact with Warner Latina and Warner Records, as well as the “game-changer” release of Towers’ album, Lyke Mike, which debuted at No. 36 on the Billboard 200 and No. 3 on Top Latin Albums in May.

The most important issue facing Latin music: “Lack of originality. Artists need to find their own sound and take a chance. There is always room to stay in a certain genre but making it [in] your own way.” – Reyes

Myke Towers Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Tomas Cookman
CEO, Industria Works/Nacional Records

Cookman’s company includes a record label, artist-services platform Industria Works and a management division working to create a “new generation of future classics,” he says, citing recent signees in Spain including Love of Lesbian, Mala Rodriguez (who just released a best-selling memoir), Paula Cendejas and Fuel Fandango. The company’s catalog stream volume has doubled since January, he reports, and Cookman oversaw the 22nd edition of the annual Latin Alternative Music Conference, held virtually for a second consecutive year in May, with sponsorships doubling year over year. “We continue hiring and not firing,” he says.

The most important issue facing Latin music: “To find ways to be a dominant and constant part of the global music business so that Latin music is not in the midst of yet another ‘Latino explosion’ with an ever-changing expiration date.”

Ángel del Villar
Founder/CEO, DEL Records

Del Villar, 41, recently signed DEL Records’ next promising stars, Los del Limit and Panchito Arredondo, and continues celebrating the successes of Eslabón Armado and Lenin Ramirez: the former for earning its fourth No. 1 on the Regional Mexican Albums chart in less than 13 months and the latter for his viral Grupo Firme-assisted hit, “Yo Ya No Vuelvo Contigo.” Eslabón Armado also nabbed top Latin albums artist of the year duo/group at the 2021 Billboard Music Awards, “an unprecedented accomplishment for a completely new regional Mexican band,” says del Villar.

The power of Latin music, in a word:  “Unstoppable”

Victor González
President, Virgin Music Latin America & Iberian Peninsula

This February, Universal Music Group relaunched Virgin Music as a global label and artist services company, with González taking the helm for Latin America. In a 22-year-career with UMG, he was most recently president of Universal Music Latin Entertainment. With his new role, he highlights the success of Virgin’s latest viral TikTok hit from Gera MX and Christian Nodal, “Botella Tras Botella,” which debuted at No. 1 on Spotify’s Global Songs Debut chart and No. 3 on Hot Latin Songs, and reached No. 60 on the Billboard Hot 100 — the first regional Mexican title to reach the all-genre chart in its 63-year history.

The most important issue facing Latin music: “Logistics for Latinos during the pandemic. Minorities in the U.S. didn’t get enough support. Many of their territories of origin lacked access to vaccines, so COVID-19 will last longer for these communities.”

Jimmy Humilde
Founder/CEO, Rancho Humilde

Illustration by Ryan Melgar

Jimmy Humilde’s first foray into the music business was in 1993, when he was 14 years old and organizing neighborhood parties in his friends’ backyards in Los Angeles.

That entrepreneurial, DIY approach continued with his launch of Rancho Humilde, the independent promotion company and label, which he runs with business partner José Becerra and CFO Roque Venegas. Informed by crowd reaction to live performances, Humilde has signed mostly local, underground regional Mexican acts since 2011, fueling their success with a nontraditional digital marketing approach that initially didn’t rely on radio or TV.

Things really clicked in 2019 when Humilde tapped into a wave of acts like Fuerza Regida and Natanael Cano, who mixed traditional corridos with rap and trap. Those artists effectively ushered in a new subgenre of Mexican music that found wide acceptance with a young generation of bilingual, bicultural listeners — and helped redefine regional Mexican music.

In October 2020, Humilde broadened his horizons and partnered with Warner Music Latina in a distribution and development deal where Atlantic Records is a “key ally,” he says. The goal is to create a global market for a genre that carries “regional” in its very name. (Humilde doesn’t care for the term.)

“I am grateful that our Latin artists are finally competing with the Anglo market,” says Humilde, “and I want to thank all my colleagues for bringing our music to the next level.”

Rancho Humilde has consistently sent titles to No. 1 on the Regional Mexican Albums chart, including releases by Alta Consigna in 2017, Legado 7 in 2018 and Cano in 2019 and 2021. The label kept that streak alive when newcomers Porte Diferente debuted in the top spot for the week ending Oct. 9, 2020. Meanwhile, Cano’s catalog has generated 797,000 album consumption units, and he was the third-most-consumed Latin artist of 2020 in the United States, according to MRC Data’s 2020 midyear report.

Gustavo López
CEO, Saban Music Group

López, 48, joined the startup Saban Music Group after a long career at Universal Music Group. After two years, he has achieved  three No. 1s on the charts, including Chesca, Pitbull and Frankie Valli’s “Te Quiero Baby” — and a handful of marquee TV appearances. Saban prides itself on global collaborations, like Israel’s Static & Ben El with Chesca and Pitbull, “tackling the task of living in the Latin space, the U.S. general market space and the international space under one roof,” says López, who signed a partnership in September with reggaetón legend Don Omar.

Chesca Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images for Univision

Andrés López Quiroga
Regional director, Latin Iberia ex Brazil, ONErpm