For a long time, Spanish-language music was a no-fly zone for major San Diego venues. Anglos didn't get it, so promoters ignored it. Then came Spanish-language music's rowdier cousin: rock en español. And the kids-all the kids, not just the Hispanic kids-loved it. More importantly, they spent money on it.
According to Billboard, shipments of Latin music to retail stores in America exploded in 2004-growing 25.6 percent (48.5 million units), for a market worth of $650.7 million. The Latin boom dwarfed the music industry as a whole, which grew by only 2 percent. Meanwhile, the Hispanic population in San Diego has grown more than 20 percent in the last 20 years and is one of the largest in the U.S.
The message? Latin music, driven by edgy acts like Kinky, Café Tacuba and Molotov, is no longer just a cultural loss leader for record stores and venues. While booking rock en español or even traditional Latin acts has always been appreciated by Latinos, it's now to the point where it can also make money for promoters.
Chula Vista venue Over the Border has been alone in almost exclusively booking Latin music for a few years now. But the venue's clientele is almost completely Latino-a choir eager for preaching that speaks their language. Despite the growing crossover appeal of Latin music, few venues with a primarily English-speaking clientele-save for occasional shows at 4th & B and the Belly Up-embrace the genre.
Diana Martinez was one of the few willing to book rock en español at the Belly Up, where she worked for 12 years (10 as a talent buyer). Now at House of Blues, heaps of folks are hoping that Martinez's experience-along with the House of Blues' dedication to musical diversity-will contribute to a renaissance of Latin music in downtown San Diego.
Dios sabe que nosotros lo necesitamos.
"Music is music, and if it's good, it touches everyone," Martinez says. "When I was booking rock en español at the Belly Up, not all of [the shows] sold out, but there was an enthusiastic crowd, a diverse crowd. That says that the music isn't just speaking to a Hispanic population."
Artists like Aterciopelados, Cafe Tacuba, Catupecu Machu, Circo, Los Pericos and Mana, for example, are becoming just as commercially viable in the U.S. as The Strokes. Kinky's song "Mas" is still recognized from a Nissan commercial that originally aired in 2003. Often a high-energy, dance-oriented format, rock en español is a shoo-in to fulfill House of Blues' mission to "promote diversity and... racial and spiritual harmony through love, peace, truth, righteousness and non-violence," and to help lift up a format that doesn't have as much support as it deserves, even in this border town.
"The concert business is based on understanding your audience, and I believe that the House of Blues has been at the forefront of understanding the demographics in their market," says John Pantle, former member of Tijuana No! who is now an agent with the L.A.-based Agency Group, where he is in charge of rock en español bands. "My responsibility is to work with venues and promoters and bands to find a place for our artists to present their work. And House of Blues is going to be a very positive step in the right direction for San Diego."
Martinez wasn't willing to explain how she's been successful in promoting Latin music because her competitors are listening. Pantle says he has already had success booking his clients-including Nortec Collective, Ely Guerra, El Tri, El Gran Silencio, Maldita Vecindad and Cartel De Santa-at the Belly Up, 4th & B and Over the Border. Pantle had originally booked El Gran Silencio at Soma, but the date was cancelled because of a common problem-the club didn't understand how to market to a Latin audience. Pantle says it's getting easier, though, especially in multicultural havens like Texas, Chicago, New York and even less obvious places like Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and Cleveland.
"Right now we have four shows booked [at House of Blues], but the proof will be in the pudding," says Martinez. "I'm looking forward to booking as many genres as possible, knowing that it's not just Hispanics that come to these shows. This is just plain good music for people to shake their hips to, language aside."