In February, when Maluma unveiled details of his 24-city Papi Juancho tour, at the time it was the biggest and most ambitious announcement yet, for any genre, as concerts began returning from the pandemic shut down in the United States.
“It was difficult to go back on stage during COVID,” the Colombian artist told Billboard earlier this year, after completing a few shows. “You have to be brave to announce a tour after all the things that happened, but I feel like everyone is just looking forward to feeling normal — and this type of concert will give that back to them.”
Soon after, a wave of Latin artists announced North American tours, including Banda MS, Marc Anthony, Rauw Alejandro, Camilo and Karol G. Since, Latin acts have set a new record for the genre, accounting for nine of the year’s top 40 tours, according to Billboard Boxscore, earning over $196 million across 159 shows. Those nine tours tied with country for the second most on the tally, and only rock has more with 12 of 2021’s top 40 tours.
This summer, Grupo Firme made history as the first Latin act to perform seven shows in a calendar year at Los Angeles’ Staples Center (the only other artist that has done more is Adele with eight nights at the venue). The norteño/banda group wrapped the year at No. 23 on the Top Tours of 2021 year-end chart, grossing a total of $18,625,726 from nine shows.
And in September, 2021 El Grito — an annual celebration of Mexican independence in Las Vegas — was “probably one of the biggest seasons of shows that we’ve had over multiple weekends,” says Hans Schafer, senior vp touring at Live Nation, which produced seven out of 12 performances across the event. Out of those seven, Alejandro Fernandez’s two concerts at MGM Grand Garden, alone grossed $2.5 million and sold 19,434 tickets, according to Billboard Boxscore.
Concert tourism has played a large role in these shows’ success, thanks to the U.S.’s high vaccination rates compared to the rest of the region. “In all of Latin America, the vaccine process is not as advanced as it is here in the U.S.,” Fernandez tells Billboard. “Because of this, a lot of people began to travel to the states. They were ready to see their favorite artist in concert; I think that happened to me, many of my fans had to come from Mexico to see my show.”
Latin tours have proved so successful that in August, legendary Mexican band Los Bukis, helmed by Marco Antonio Solís, reunited for the first time in 25 years — and scored the biggest Latin tour of the year, earning $49.6 million, according to Billboard Boxscore. Bachata group Aventura similarly scored a record-breaking reunion tour with its four-date stadium trek that earned $20.8 million, as reported by Billboard Boxscore.
“We have several artists that have broken their own records in touring,” Schafer says, describing ticket sales for 2021 as “over performing” compared to pre-pandemic times. “Los Bukis [tour] was a massive success, achieving something that no other Latin band has ever achieved in the history of touring with nine sold-out stadiums in a single run.”
The record year is a far cry from 2020, when the pandemic brought touring to a halt – and no one knew for how long. “Like most of the [live music] industry, my initial thoughts were that this would pass soon and that we would be back with live shows before the last quarter of the year,” says Luana Pagani, president of artist management agency SeitrackUS. “It wasn’t until about the third month and after many rescheduling plans that we started to get really concerned. There was no clear idea on when we were going to go back and how it was going to look.”
It took the Latin live music scene over a year to reopen, with many industry leaders, as Pagani says, taking “a leap of faith and trusting that by the time the shows would happen, herd immunity was going to be a reality.”
But then came the delta variant, which as Loud and Live’s CEO, Nelson Abareda, says, “took a second stab at us. Basically, all of our ticket sales came to a halt for three weeks. June and July were good months for sales, and then it froze all of a sudden.”
While artists from other genres began to cancel or reschedule their 2021 tours — including Korn, Garth Brooks, Backstreet Boys and more — Latin acts pushed ahead with concert promoters following protocols dictated by every venue, city and state to ensure safety for their staff, artist and fans.
“Music is so culturally relevant to who we are and our identity and how we share with our friends and family, not to take away from any other genre,” says Schafer. “It’s at the center of our lives, and going to shows is at the center of all that, too.” Adds Abareda: “Latin music is at its peak, it’s gone mainstream, and I think Latin fans were really ready to embrace going back to live.”
Now as the omicron variant again threatens touring, with a number of recent cancelations, Abareda assures that Latin market isn’t planning on slowing down. “The momentum we’ve seen in touring in 2021 is a strong indicator of what’s coming in 2022,” he says, “It’s setting ourselves [up for] a record-breaking year.”