In the early eighties I worked in New York City for Billboard, first for a Spanish-language sister publication that used the original's template to cover the music of Spain, Latin America and the Latino U.S., and then for Billboard itself. Until then I'd been a music consumer and soon started dabbling as a music critic, but at Billboard I learned about the business of music. In the Spanish-speaking world the bulk of the business was in two places.
One was the music of the streets -- or the countryside. A lot of that is what I loved. It is, in fact, what all music geeks love. I discovered Latin genres like Colombian vallenato and Texas conjunto that got into my blood. This music was in the hands of independent labels. It was the music biz, old-school. The major labels, many if not most of whom have disappeared by now, had other fish to fry. Music that crossed regional borders because it owed no allegiance to any region. In fact, one name for it was "international." Another name was the romantic ballad, because it was practically all love songs. Eventually it became known as Latin pop.
Jose Jose and Emmanuel from Mexico. Jose Luis Rodriguez "el Puma" from Venezuela. Raphael from Spain. And also from Spain, the singer whose label claimed was the best-selling male vocalist in the world, Julio Iglesias.
Frankly, I didn't like them. I was or tried to be a music snob, was or tried to hang out downtown, in the new club scene where the music was or tried to be, well, downtown. But my Billboard paycheck put food on the table and I followed the Latin pop phenomenon, listened to the music, met the artists. Eventually, some of it grew on me.
It was a guilty pleasure for someone who affected hipness and who, quite sincerely, loved the music of the streets, to enjoy these heavily orchestrated, shamelessly romantic, totally uncool songs. Until one day that pleasure was validated by none other than Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
(To be continued)