Nightclub Jitters

In an MTV Latino studio lined with silky batik banners, a producer introduces herself and leads an audience in "applause practice," throwing her arms above her head and bringing them down slowly. But the crowd -- a stylish group of about 200 bilingual Latin rock fans, Latin American journalists, and MTV staffers -- doesn't need much coaching. They've gathered for the taping of an Unplugged concert by Cafe Tacuba, the Mexico City group who took the music channel's 1995 Best Latin Video award for "La Ingrata." Cafe Tacuba's music strings together a raw blend of eclectic styles, including polka, bolero, samba, ska, and the popular Mexican rhythm la quebradita, all charged with a driving punk-rock beat.

Unplugged tapings have become regular events at MTV Latino's Lincoln Road production studios. Last Thursday, one night after the Cafe Tacuba set, the Chilean band Los Tres also taped an "Unplugged" episode. A surplus of local Latin rock lovers makes up the audience for the segments. One week before the Cafe Tacuba taping, the band performed a full-blown electric set in New York City at the College Media Journal music conference to a rather different crowd, one that included music writers from the city's major newspapers. The NYC showcase -- which also featured a Latin rock group from Sweden! -- was staged to launch Warner Music's new promotional campaign, AlterLatino, designed to bring the sounds of Latin rock bands such as Cafe Tacuba to college radio stations in the U.S. and Canada.

"The response so far has been enormous," says Maribel Schumacher, Warner's VP of marketing for Latin America and the U.S. Hispanic market. "I think that we all agree that Spanish rock has crossover potential. We simply put this [AlterLatino] together to get it out to what I think is the most hospitable segment of the market, which consists of the college kids. And the flexible college radio format best lends itself to different kinds of music."

Cafe Tacuba's most recent release, Re, already has sold 50,000 units in the U.S. Other acts signed to Warner's Latin label, WEA Latina, also have made inroads into the U.S. Hispanic market, most notably the Mexican pop group Mana. But Schumacher says the potential for an audience consisting of Anglo or second- or third-generation (mostly English-speaking) Hispanic rock fans who do not usually listen to Spanish-language music is just starting to be realized.

"This is a country with such a huge ethnic population that you'd think that the Anglo population would be open to their [Latin] music," she notes. "The tragedy was that there wasn't an avenue that allowed us to market to the Anglo segment. But the music has been there.

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Judy Cantor