Latin Alternative Music Conference Highlights Rock En Español

Aterciopelados, Nava unplug at acoustic showcase after attendees network, hear panelists.

NEW YORKAterciopelados and Molotov came to town as established acts in search of more visible ground, while Riesgo de Contagio and Vallejo came as relative unknowns looking for exposure.

Whatever the aims of participants, the co-founder of the just-completed Latin Alternative Music Conference (Sunday through Tuesday) hoped the meeting would mark an annual entry into the mainstream for Latin artists a bit edgier than Ricky Martin.

"We needed a conference that really focused on rock and hip-hop," said Josh Norek, who is also an independent publicist. "If I could have done it earlier, I would have."

The genres are ones in which Latin-music groups are gaining a wider audience.

(Click here for a full report on the music at the conference.)

Representatives from several of the major labels attended the conference. Ayelet Soto, who manages Riesgo de Contagio, a Mexico City punk band signed to a Mexican indie label, saw the conference as an opportunity to market the band to the major labels, who increasingly are investing in Latin artists. She mirrored comments often made during September's annual CMJ New Music festival.

"It is important," Soto said. "If you don't have the support of a major label, then you don't have the money to get on the radio. So it does make a difference."

As proof of the event's effect, Norek said the Virgin Megastore in Times Square sold 80 copies of Argentinian rappers Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas' album Leche on Sunday. The album usually struggles to sell that many in a week nationwide, he said.

During the conference itself, "Internet and New Media" panelists agreed that technology stands to radically alter how records are sold and even what a "record" is. Despite the uncertainty of how the courts may regulate music on the Internet and the threat to profits posed by file-sharing software, youthful optimism prevailed. More than 50 million Latinos are expected to be online worldwide within a few years, with the rock en español market making inroads into the non-Latin market as well.

Five bands unplugged and allowed acoustic guitars to command the sound during a showcase at the club Nell's on Monday night. Colombia's Aterciopelados and Mexico's Julieta Venegas were fairly well-known, while Puerto Rican songwriter Nava, whose recent album contains the track "Así Na' Má" (RealAudio excerpt), was seeking a new audience as a solo act. Laura Morales, a conference attendee from Los Angeles, sang along with Venegas, then said, "She's the greatest female Mexican singer ever!"

Conference co-founder Tomas Cookman (manager of Aterciopelados, Argentina's Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, New York's King Changó and Argentina's Los Amigos Invisibles) deemed the conference a success. "We set out to prove that this genre and market are a lot bigger than anyone expected, and that we're not just a fringe element," Cookman said. "We know we accomplished that by looking at the number of people who attended [700], and by the expertise of our panelists."

Constança Garcia, head of Music Marketing, which promotes both rock en español and tropical Latin music, assessed the conference as "a nice place to meet people from other places. You could understand from it how the industry works." But the burning question for her remained, "Will it bring business?"

Whether attending for business or art, Latino or not, most came away from the conference aware that the music is out there and kicking butt. The bottom line may well have been voiced by the attendee who observed, to a round of applause, that "our music is rock en español because we want to preserve our culture."