In 2005, artist-producer Maffio (real name: Carlos Ariel Peralta Mendoza) created Alkatraks Entertainment with the vision to one day retire from music and launch a record label. Sixteen years later, his vision came to life — after he received a spontaneous DM on Instagram from aspiring music artist Calacote, who said he wanted to revolutionize the dembow movement with his Dominican and French roots.
“When I heard his tone of voice and pitch, I knew I wanted to sign him, and in order to do that, I needed to have a label,” Maffio tells Billboard. “My whole thought process and vision got sped up because of him.”
Today, he officially presents Alkatraks Music Group. The name derives from “alkaline batteries” and is a synonym for “power tracks.”
“I was mindful that I had to create a name, leverage, and credibility so that this idea would one day be believable,” he adds. “I have 15 years in the industry, making hit records, knowing the business in and out, and it was just the right time.”
The first person to know about the label was his right-hand and longtime business partner Jessica Valladares, whom Maffio says is crucial to his team and will be operating many aspects of the label, from logistics to booking. He then reached out to his lawyers Javier Feito from SMGQ Law and Leslie Jose Zigél from Firm’s Entertainment, Media & Technology Group, to invite them as his partners on this new career venture.
“We get asked a lot to partner with clients. It’s very rare for us to accept but this is the exception, not the rule ” Zigél, one of Billboard’s 2021 Top Music Lawyers, says. “We began working with Maffio in 2019 on the legal side and the relationship developed. It’s a true collaboration and when he asked us to be partners we were honored, humbled, and super excited about this opportunity to make history together.”
“It was a quick yes but you also have to take into account that it’s a business and what we hope to be a large-scale operation,” Feito adds. “The right thing to do is approach it the way we approached it. We talked about it but we waited for the right moment. This is the perfect example of opportunity meets preparation. We have the relationship, the capital, we run operations, the creative part is taken care of, and now it’s time to launch it using all of our resources and doing it with mutual respect.”
Both Feito and Zigél, who have been working together for 15 years, will help run the backend of the operation and advise Maffio on all of the business issues. Also joining up with Alkatraks Music Group are live operations director Jose Luis Cherrez, creative director Basilio Silva, publicity director Marcie Stefan, and Slim Angel Calderón, who will help run promo agendas.
“These are people who want to do good in the industry and we’re riding together as a team,” Maffio says. “When you’re starting a business it doesn’t matter what title you have,” Feito elaborates. “We’re all doers and wear many hats. That’s kind of our mentality. There’s no ego involved because the job will fall apart.”
Alkatraks will distribute its music via InnerCat Music Group helmed by managing partner Paris Cabezas and general manager Garrett Schaefer.
“We ultimately decided to go on a fairly non-traditional independent route because they have a very different approach to the others,” Zigél explained. “They have a very analytical and data-driven approach as far as understanding this entire new digital era that we’re in right now. We all collectively felt that they will be able to push certain buttons within the way things are marketed today that will maybe be an advantage for Calacote and Alkatraks. They’re willing to take the risk with us.”
As for how they plan to recruit new talents? Maffio says all hands are on Calacote’s project right now.
“Once he spreads his wings, has a life of his own, and is touring, then we will focus on finding another diamond in the rough,” he elaborates. “He’s going to be on the forefront of the label. We’re taking it slowly but very strategically.”
Feito agrees: “It’s not about having 30 artists. It’s really about developing one artist with patience and discipline. It’s about having a controlled group. Think Fania All-Stars. A community of artists that can make really good music and connect at different levels. It’s about doing it in an artful and methodical way.”
ALL BETS ON CALACOTE
It all begins with Calacote (real name: Luca Newton), a 22-year-old ambitious singer-songwriter who was born in North Carolina and is of Dominican and French descent.
He describes his leap of faith as the ultimate “cinematic hustle move.”
He began exploring music about two years ago but never thought he could pursue a career in it. He discovered his talent and passion for composing music in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and took his shot. He packed up his stuff, left Canada, where he was in grad school, moved first to New York, and later to Miami. After a few months of living in Miami, in December to be exact, he decided to direct message Maffio on Instagram. Twenty minutes later Maffio replied, they met up, and the rest is history.
On Aug. 20, Calacote will be dropping his debut single under Alkatraks Music Group called “Azafata” (air hostess or stewardess). A remix with perreo all-stars Jowell & Randy is also underway. “This is the first song Maffio and I did together and the first time I ever went to a recording studio,” he says. “While Maffio was making the beat, I was writing the song. It literally took us about 45 minutes to create.”
With lyrics such as “serving me dinner like a stewardess,” Calacote brings a “unique and unheard of” musical mixture full of witty hooks and experimental fusions, with Dominican dembow always at the forefront. “My sound is and always will be developing,” he notes, “but I think that the essence of my sound will never change. That, combined with Maffio’s beats, makes pure magic. Fundamentally, I don’t try to copy anyone in music.”
Calacote, whose artistic name is a play on words on “avoir la cote,” French slang for “to be popular,” credits Arcangel and Residente as his biggest musical influences. “They were the first artists to inspire me to ever want to pursue a music career,” he recalls. “And thanks to Maffio, now I’m in a real creative space, making music, and learning so much.”
“I always tell Calacote to keep his ethics, professionalism, and classiness. To know everyone’s name, look them in the eye, and be empathetic of his surroundings,” Maffio, who also launched his music career as an indie artist before signing to Sony Music, advises. “The more successful you get, the more humble you have to stay. Once you reach that level of stardom, it’s time to give back and help.”
And that’s precisely what the Latin hitmaker wants to achieve with his own record label.
“Being Latino in our culture, I feel that we are losing our identity. Thirty years from now, a Latino kid born in the U.S. is probably not going to know about their roots — what cumbia or merengue is, what a sancocho is. I’m already thinking 30 years from now. I want my grandkids to know and embrace where they come from,” he says. “That’s how I hope we, as Alkatraks Music Group, write our legacy, and we want to write it beautifully with respect and by keeping our culture alive. This is for the culture.”