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No one has done more to build Miami's rep as the swirling epicenter of cotton candy Latin pop than impresario, erstwhile producer, and savvy pitchman Emilio Estefan, Jr. And no one has done more to counter that rep than independent distributor, Latin alternative booster, and sincere pitchman Gustavo Fernandez. After all, Estefan has played Pygmalion to such prefab glittersnipes as Gloria, Thalia, and Shakira, while Fernandez has filled record bins with bands that sound like they belong on the exterminator's, not Billboard's, hit list: White Rat (Rata Blanca), Paranoid Rats (Ratas Paranoicas), and Crab Lice (Los Piojos).
So the news that Estefan's label Crescent Moon Records recently hired Fernandez away from his own independent distributor DLN and label Delanuca is by turns strange, scary, and maybe even promising.
Truth be told, just about anything that has to do with Crescent Moon Records is strange. Boutique labels with a handful of artists usually have a specialized roster, but Crescent Moon seems to have deliberately assembled the most disparate acts possible under the Latin umbrella: super-earnest Peruvian singer-songwriter Gian Marco; Cuban jazz trumpet (and piano) virtuoso Arturo Sandoval; raunchy Panamanian calypso punks Rabanes; multiculti good grrrls MSM; Puerto Rican poster-popster Shalim; and Cuban-American tropical-style-morph Jon Secada. Next up? Why not? Mexican regional pop from a chica named Jimena.
"We want to represent all of the different segments of the market," explains Crescent Moon president Mauricio Abaroa. "We're always open to good projects that represent different sectors." That's because, rather than pushing a particular style of music, Crescent Moon pushes the imaginary concept of the Latino or the Hispanic. "Unlike other independents who focus on the U.S. Latin market," says Abaroa (and unlike the majors, for that matter, who tend to segment out the U.S. Latin market from Spain and the various Latin American countries), "our territory is the Hispanic world."
So maybe it's not so strange that eight months ago, when Crescent Moon took the task of marketing and promoting its grab bag of artists away from parent company Sony, indie crusader Fernandez's name came to mind.
"To have a person with Gustavo's attitude directly a part of Emilio's world will develop not just the individual artists, but the label itself," says Abaroa. "He has a command of the corporate language, but then he goes out into the street with a knife between his teeth, fighting for his artists."
Indeed Fernandez told New Times in March 2001 that he quit working for major labels because the bands he cared about had a limited commercial potential -- selling between 5000 and 10,000 units -- making too little profit for the majors but still enough, he thought, for a distributor to live on.
So why would Fernandez abandon his own ship to fight for Emilio Estefan's label?
"9/11 hit us hard," says Fernandez.
Which brings us to the scary part.
Without Fernandez, will DLN and Delanuca sink, drowning all the fabulous voices with modest sales Fernandez helped keep afloat?
"DLN is up and running, as is Delanuca," reassures Fernandez from his new office in the Estefan Enterprises building. Now, rather than sucking his own salary out of the profits, Fernandez hired hungry young Guatemalan gun José Cabrera -- a veteran of both record distributor Bassin/Alliance Entertainment and tropical label Kubaney -- to oversee both businesses.
"My stepping out of DLN will give them more economic flexibility because I'm not drawing a salary from the company," admits Fernandez. "My passion won't be in the forefront, but the machinery is already in place."
And that's what seems promising.
"It's gotten better for us," Fernandez says of DLN/Delanuca: Due to crises at home the Latin American acts DLN distributes now tour the United States more than ever; three weeks ago the distributor scored a new account with the Virgin megachain; and that same week the recent MTV Video Music Awards Latin America gave many of his acts precious time on U.S. TV screens. "That was a huge step forward."
And what does Fernandez see himself doing in that other machine?
He'll come out fighting to sell Jon Secada, Gian Marco, and even Shalim.
"If those artists do well," Fernandez observes, "that will give us opportunities to challenge what might have been the original mindset of the label."