Super Juanes!

Meanwhile the Queen dies; Tego lives; and the industry hangs on for dear life

We will certainly need to hear more from young Latinos, now that our most revered elder has passed on. The most powerful show of 2003 was one where the star never moved. The Queen, Celia Cruz, lay motionless in state, smiling in a blond wig at the Freedom Tower last July while politicians fell over themselves to get a piece of her mojo and tens of thousands of mourning fans lined up to get one last peek at her radiance. If there is such a thing as a sold-out wake, this was it. Always in tune with the times, Celia passed on to the beat of her last hit single, "Ríe y Llora" ("Laugh and Cry"), leaving us with this final testament: "Laugh, cry/Because everyone's hour arrives." How lucky for us that Celia's hour took more than 80 years to come.

To some observers, this looked like the year that Latin music might die as well. The majors' Miami-based Latin divisions took a big hit from street level and Internet piracy, leading most to cut back on personnel and perks. Gone are the lavish hotel suites and succulent spreads that used to go along with interviews when I started this job four years ago. Now all but the very top artists hold forth in dreary label conference rooms, the most depressing of which is the Coral Gables offices of BMG Latin, a virtual ghost town in the months leading up to its recent merger with Sony. Some industry insiders fear that the downturn will lead to the dismantling of our city as the Latin music capital and the sacrifice of a generation of artists. One insider associated with Juanes's first album observes that in today's climate, he'd never have gotten the chance to do a followup after the disappointing sales of his debut.

But others believe that the record business is just going through another round of growing pains and that the Latin entertainment industry is too entrenched in Miami to go away. Sergio George -- the Nuyorican producer of "Ríe y Llora," Celia's previous powerhouse "La Negra Tiene Tumbao," the tongue-in-cheek Bacilos hit "Mi Primer Millón," and basically the whole movement known as tropi-pop -- opted to move down to South Florida to set up a studio here. "It's not gloom and doom and all," says George of the industry outlook. "It's a sort of cleansing. The record business started to get too corporate. People get tired of fabrication. These kinds of things happen to get the focus back on artists. So it's a good thing."

Just ask Juanes.

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