Miami's Melissa Giles was barely 18 when she started Soulfrito.
The music festival, launched way back in 2002, was the first of its kind in Miami, presenting all urban styles, from reggaeton to rap, on one bill. For several years, she and Soulfrito were a success. But then the fest founder decided to take a hiatus and focus on her cultural foundation of the same name.
Now, the Soulfrito Urban Latin Music Festival is back, and thanks to a five-year deal with Sun Life Stadium, the streets of Miami Gardens will rumble and echo with the sounds of Nas, Don Omar, Busta Rhymes, Juicy J, Plan B, and Miami's own Suénalo, just to name a few.
Here's what Melissa Giles has to say about street promotion, radio wars, and why Los Premios are stupid.
Crossfade: What is the history of Soulfrito?
Melissa Giles: I started the festival in 2002 when I was about 18 years old and going to college. We did the first one at Bayfront Park and 8,000 people showed up. That was the first concert I ever did.
How did you get started?
Well, I started in promotions when I was 16 years old. I created the first all female street team in Miami, and I worked all the new music and artists for Def Jam and Loud Records.
Why did you take that next step and start a music festival?
What was going through my mind is that being an Americanized Latina in Miami, you don't live exclusively in a Latin world. You don't just listen to Spanish music all day. At the time, there was no platform for bridging the cultures. So I built one. But a lot of people said it would never work to put so-called "urban" and "Latin" music on the same stage.
What is the importance of street promotion in Miami?
It's still a vital part of the marketing mix. Not everybody listens to radio. Not everybody is online. And not everybody watches TV. So street promotion is crucial, particularly for a show in Miami, where so much is going on. People have to be hit in the head here, over and over and over again, for it to stick. Guerrilla marketing and grassroots marketing is vital. I still hit the streets with my team and promote.
What can you say about the headliners?
Don Omar is an incredible artist. He can sing and he can rap. He is the crème de la crème of pop artists in this industry.
Busta Rhymes is an incredible showman and he has singles coming out now with Shabba Ranks and ASAP Ferg that are making a lot of noise in New York. He always delivers. I'm looking forward to his show.
And Nas is just one of those legends in hip-hop. As a lyricist, there are few rap artists that have his credibility. In terms of hip hop music, he's the best.
It's cool that you got all these Miami DJs too.
We have Brass King, Pauer, Entice, Enuff, Africa, and a few others that are still unannounced. For me, they're a crucial element because they have the pulse of the city, and people are loyal to them as DJs. There's more that I would love to have, but we partnered with two radio stations in the market, and because of the turf wars between them all, the politics wouldn't allow it.
What do you think of the music industry?
It's full of band-wagoners. They ride the wave. All the award shows like Los Premios and Billboard Latin Music Awards call everything reggaeton. But urban Latin to me is more of a lifestyle and a culture than a style of music.
Are you or the festival ever stereotyped?
Stereotyping comes with the territory, but that's why we keep pushing the envelope. All the naysayers claimed it would never work. But this is the first major stage that launched the careers of Pitbull, Aventura, and Wisin y Yandel, and now all the big major companies have urban Latin segments.
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How did the name come about?
The root word of Soulfrito is sofrito, which is how you spice and add seasoning to your food. It's a mixture of things that are inclusive and make everything taste better.
Soulfrito Urban Latin Music Festival. Saturday, February 22, 2014. Sun Life Stadium, 2269 NW 199th St., Miami Gardens. The festival begins at 1 p.m. and tickets cost $54 to $129 plus fees via ticketmaster.com. Visit soulfrito.com.