Last week was the Latin American Music Awards. The LAMA is an annual American music award that is presented by Telemundo. It is the Spanish-language counterpart of the American Music Awards. It was such a shock when we discovered that salsa wasn't nominated for a single award at the 2021 edition. This was contrary to other awards such as the Latin Grammy or the Billboard Awards, where salsa music is always at the podium. The tropical category award fell on the shoulders of the Bachateros Prince Royce and Romeo Santos. While it is true that Bachata's growth has been dizzying, it never has the followers of a globally recognized genus such as Salsa. Once again, Urban and Mexican Regional music dominated the stage. As with AMAs, the Latin AMAs are determined by a poll of the public and music buyers. What did the salsa music industry did wrong?
We just said it all with this definition: “poll of the public and music buyers”.
Salsa music is just too damn broad. The genre encompasses everything and it's impossible to separate and understand the music of a particular region from the DMA perspective. A designated market area (DMA) is a geographic region where Nielsen, the ratings company, analyzes and quantifies how television is viewed. DMAs describe particular locations or regions where people get the same television and radio options. Nielsen uses designated market areas when compiling their ratings.
Explained in “arroz y habichuelas” (rice and beans): while Univision Communications has always dominated the Mexican segment of the Latinos in the USA, Telemundo productions are more targeted to appeal to a younger, bilingual audience. I don’t see this changing because Grupo Televisa just agreed to sell its content and media assets to U.S. partner Univision Holdings Inc. in a $4.8 billion deal that deepens the ties between the two giants of Spanish-language TV. Therefore, it is logical to expect more content produced in Mexico to maximize the ROI for investors.
I remember when we pitched the World Salsa Championships show back in 2005 to both, Univision and Telemundo. The pitch contemplated the production of a reality show plus the actual competition. Telemundo never responded I guess because its archrival ABC already put a finger to it. Univision, in the other hand, was only interested in the reality show to the point that they created their own version “Bailando por un Sueno”. Meaning "Dancing for a dream", it is a reality series that commenced on the Mexican television network Canal de las Estrellas back in 2005. For sure this was also a competitive reaction to compete with Dancing with the Stars.
After pitching several networks, ESPN understood the opportunity and the rest is history. ESPN belongs to the ABC/Disney family so they had a first-hand experience with dancing as a TV magnet for building ratings. I am glad they gave us the first shot to be on global TV and we did not disappoint them. To their surprise, our show had better ratings with women in a male channel and the last edition in 2016 had the most viewership in the 22-23 age range. Again, always skewed to female. But why is that? One thing is music and another thing is dancing. Although there is a symbiotic relationship between the two, the demographics are not the same. Dance shows are skewed to younger TV audiences. To prove the pint, DWTS was officially renewed on March 30. Season 29 did have an 8% drop in viewership but improved slightly in the key 18-49 demo. But considering how much the series has been a staple for the network—as well as its success of producing a show in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic—it’s not a surprise that DWTS has been one of the most successful dance shows on TV.
Salsa music is more than ketchup. Therefore, we may have a better chance explaining to Americans with a bottle of Heinz than with a can of Goya simply because they put ketchup to everything ….and some of us complain (not me) when we put ketchup in the pasteles boricuas. By the way, America is currently facing a ketchup shortage. The little ketchup packets often included in takeout orders are in short supply these days in what some people are calling “the great ketchup shortage of 2021”.
It is funny that Salsa Goya usually sponsors Salsa events but Heinz ketchup, in the other hand, sponsors sports games and arenas. In terms of dance, we want to become a dance sport and one day become an Olympic sport so, I will take ketchup versus cooking base pasta anytime. But going back to the music, everything revolves around branding. There is a human tendency to model what is “in” or “pegao” but my question is: at what cost? The reasoning behind abandoning the traditional salsa music (salsa gorda or romantica) from TV seems to be that a lot of the purists don’t like the more modern styles. Anyways, reggaeton is the flavor of the month and sneakers, caps, typical headpieces, sunglasses and backpacks will continue replacing neckties and suits. But that doesn’t mean you have to change your outfit. There is no secret that the most famous salseros are not necessarily teenagers so why should they look like their urban cousins wearing skinny jeans, blin-blins or any other accessory not communicating “their brand”? Bad Bunny will never be a “good bunny” and “El caballero de la salsa” will always be “el caballero”. “Da gusto” to see him on stage with his nice suits honoring his name. Although in another genre but I encourage you to do an exercise: type “Luis Miguel” in google images and you will see that he is always dressed up in black and white. Make to mistake. You will never see him with ripped jeans on stage. He is always ready for a “wedding” with his fans. That is personal branding.
In 2021, there was no salsa music at the Latin AMAs. The winner of the night in the Tropical genre was Prince Royce. Wait a second!!! His real name is Geoffrey Royce Rojas. Not only he was gifted to have a “royal” last name (Rolls-Royce is one of the most luxurious band in the world), but he changed his name to be a Prince! And not Prince Toyota or Mitsubishi; just Prince Royce! We all remember Hector Lavoe but not necessarily Héctor Juan Pérez Martínez. Promoter Jerry Masucci, founder of Fania, was reluctant to use his full name. The 1960’s was also the decade of the “British Invasion,” with bands like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles playing a very popular style of music. Mr. Masucci and Johnny Pacheco needed a bold statement to compete with other popular genres dominating the New York entertainment scene and "Lavoe" meaning "the voice" in French filled that gap. The rest was history, Fania changed the history of Salsa music forever.
As a result, maybe is the right time for the industry to reinvent the genre and set up the all-important timing. The time is ready to maybe push for an all-Salsa reality TV show, or if this is too much, an all-hip-hop versus salsa competition to help the genre penetrate mainstream America. The biggest thing that Salsa needs to do is to confront the fact that there is no dancing without music and there is no music without dance. The times to use dancers like landscape in music videos are passe. No more “ketchup” routines! The “Boogaloo Supreme” by Victor and Wisin was a great starting point for this. Salsa dance should be part of the sofrito (base), the recipe and flavor for the main dish. When the meal is served, if you want to add ketchup, that is your choice. It is time for both, the musicians and the dancers to cook together a full meal to replace the Hot dog, Fries and Ketchup. I am sure American TV will love it. Together we can cook a better combo even if do it “despacito”. Salsaaaaa!
About the author :Noel Roque, the founder and CEO of the World Dance Group, is an award-winning marketing and advertising executive with more than 30 years of experience working for brands and companies like Coca-Cola, Yum Brands, Saatchi and Saatchi, Hilton, Foote Cone and Belding and others. In 2013 he was awarded finalist in the Coca-Cola Worldwide Marketing and Commercial awards with more than 200 countries participating.