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REGGAETON: BEYOND GASOLINA

The global market awaits for the next Reggaeton hits, as the genre takes over Europe and beyond.

In 2004, Daddy Yankee's "Gasolina" introduced the world to a new music mix hailing from Puerto Rico: reggaetón. The track became a global hit from Australia to Switzerland. It reached No. 9 on Billboard's Eurochart Hot 100 Singles chart. The key question then was, Could reggaetón, with its infectious blend of Latin, reggae and hip-hop grooves, be more than a one-hit genre? There were hopes that, as success was growing in the United States, it would spread worldwide. "Gasolina" remains the only international reggaetón hit.

Yet there is a sense of buoyancy about the genre's potential. Gustavo López, president of leading reggaetón label Machete Music, admits that reggaetón does not enjoy the same status in the rest of the world that it has in the United States, but he is starting to see a drift. "The genre has proven its longevity in the U.S., and we are very hopeful that it will expand," López says. With Daddy Yankee showing the way, such artists as Don Omar and Tego Calderón are two of the hottest names tipped for international success.

Omar's new album "King of Kings" is out on Machete Music, distributed worldwide by Universal, and Calderón's album "El Subestimado/The Underdog," is out on Atlantic.

Machete Music GM David Junk notes that the goal of the label is to build such acts as Omar and Wisin & Yandel on a global scale. "We've gone from licensing tracks to [developing] artists," he says.

Having the Universal marketing and distribution machine at hand is also a plus when attempting to break acts on a global scale, Junk adds. "We may be a small label in Burbank [Calif.], but we have access to Universal's worldwide network."

López says that sometimes a lucky break will appear. "Conteo," one of Omar's tracks, was featured in the movie "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" and attracted attention in Japan. "It is a perfect tool to cross over," Junk says.

Finding a breakthrough is also part of the strategy of digital music distributor the Orchard. The company recently licensed a New York label, Musica de la Calle, a division of Sunflower Entertainment, which specializes in Latin street music.

"With reggaetón, we have to use guerrilla marketing tactics," says New York-based Jason Ojalvo, VP of marketing and business development for the Orchard. "Our experience is that when people can sample the music, they tend to like it."

Consequently, the Orchard will mount marketing campaigns with digital retailers that include free downloads. The scheme will start in the United States and expand internationally. Ojalvo says Europe is a prime spot. "First we'll look for Latin pockets, the local communities, and start from there," he says.

Targeting the grass-roots Latin audience is what London-based DJ Jose Luis focuses on. Luis, who is of Venezuelan origin, runs Candela, a concert promotion company for Latin underground music. He is also a DJ in Latin clubs and operates reggaeton.co.uk.

Luis thinks the success of "Gasolina" opened doors, but now is the time to consolidate. "It helped a lot, but because the record industry in the U.K. and the urban DJs in England are completely ignorant of reggaetón and Latin music in general, the momentum did not last.Still, reggaetón has been growing a lot since last year," he says.

Luis names the concert that Omar performed at the 5,000-seat Brixton Academy at the end of July as one of the positive signs that reggaetónis reaching out to new audiences. "That would not have happened last year," he says.

Luis believes that in the United Kingdom reggaetón is taking the place hip-hop had years ago as sexy urban music. "Unfortunately," he adds, "hip-hop has become hard to promote in clubs due to the violence that seems to be associated with it. Reggaetón has not that problem in Europe. Reggaetón is like the Latino son of hip-hop and dancehall, but at the moment it does not have a violent element in it that those two have. It is very open to everyone to enjoy."

These views are shared by French broadcaster Sam Zniber, PD of France's national top 40/urban station Fun Radio. "Reggaetón is in a good place to take on rap on a global scale," Zniber says. He claims that reggaetón can be "as positive as Latin music, as engaging as dance music and as furious as good rap: It's just the right mix."

So what will it take for reggaetón to thrive alongside other genres? "One great artist and one top 10 single, and it'll roll," Ojalvo says.

"We are much more hopeful today than a year ago," López says. "The music that's coming is amazing. And it just wants to cross borders."

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