Ostensibly it was a trade conference, but given the nature of the industry involved, it couldn’t help turning into a huge party as well.  From the ample Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach to back-street clubs in the the region’s sprawling Cuban neighborhoods, Latin and Caribbean
musicians from across the hemisphere converged here last week in a mood of artistic and economic euphoria.

At the Gleason Theater, the Colombian heartthrob and former soap opera star Carlos Vives wedded the country rhythms, wood flute and accordion of the raucus vallenata style with international pop. At a party at Vizcaya, the waterside Italianate mansion, Chichi Peralta and Son
Familia, from the Dominican Republic, mixed salsa, South African music, classical music, folk music, merengue and half a dozen other forms.

Control Machete, a new rap band from Monterrey, Mexico, that is one of the week’s most talked-about groups, absorbed rap and skateboard cultures, and brought them together with the fluorescence of Mexican slang.

The occasion was the first Latin and Caribbean music conference sponsored by a French company called Midem, which sponsors commercial music trade events around the world. The gathering, known as Midem Music Mart ’97, attracted 151 acts from 25 countries, filling the Miami Beach Convention Center with hundreds of booths from record companies, CD manufacturers, radio stations and concert promoters.

Arena Logo

Arena Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Music Marts have taken place in Cannes, France, and Hong Kong. This was the first devoted to Latin music, and it came at a felicitous time. The Recording Industry Association of America recently reported that sales of Latin music were growing robustly while sales in other music segments were flat or slumping.

At the conference, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the organization that presents the Grammy Awards, announced that a parallel organization it had set up for Latin music would put on its own awards ceremony within 18 months. Julio Iglesias, who gave a short speech at the conference, said he marveled at the growth of what had traditionally been a marginalized music niche. ”I’m really proud of all the attention music in Spanish is finally getting,” he said. ”And it’s been hard to get it, too. We’ve all worked hard to take the music around the world.”

The one politically touchy note was a resolution by the Dade County government that restricts the county from doing business with companies involved in commerce with Cuba. The resolution nearly led to the cancellation of the conference, and some of the conference’s promoters said it threatened its return. No music sponsored by Cuban companies was sold or performed at the conference. The musical message of the week was evident in the syntheses of music across Latin cultures and countries.

Sometime early Wednesday morning, as night was pushing into dawn, Machel Montano from Trinidad hit the stage in Miami Beach with a mix of soca with reggae and hip-hop. The musicians take their cues from MTV. For Control Machete, the Mexican rap group, hip-hop appropriations were ample, but the musical fusion was clearly Mexican; the form was borrowed, but the sensibility, the color of the music, was indigenous. ”We’ve heard hip-hop all our lives,” said Fermin IV, one of the group’s rappers. ”Two Live Crew,  House of Pain, everything. So we use hip-hop beats, but it’s with our experience and we feel that its very, very Mexican.”

The name that was perhaps mentioned most often was Ricky Martin. Mr. Martin, from Puerto Rico, was in the group Menudo and has acted on Broadway. He has had a major string of hits in Europe over the last year, from Spain to Finland. There was a sense here that Europe and the United States were primed for a portion of all the new experiments coming from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Wendy-Ann Garcia of the Trinidad and Tobago Tourism and Industrial Development Department,  which sent 34 acts, said she thought her government’s investment made sense.”We feel that the world market right now is really receptive to Caribbean music,” she said. ”It’s happy music, and there’s so much going on now, from steel band orchestras to chutney music, which is a mixture of soca and eastern Indian music, that it is vibrant. Also, soca hasn’t really broken out in Europe or in the United States. It still sounds new and fresh.”

Ronald Smeets, a businessman who started his record company a few years ago in the Virgin Islands, and who records Mr. Peralta, the Dominican band leader, invested nearly $50,000 in the trip.

Ronald Smeets said he thought the conference was catching Latin music at a ripe time. ”In many places, salsa and merengue are very big,” he said. ”Every town has a salsa dance class or a club. The average person no longer wants to just be a housewife or a banker. They want something
better, something more social, and this music is a way to get into a different way of living.” None of this made too much difference to the musicians, who went on doing what they do: playing and hanging out.

Disk jockeys playing international and Latin mixes worked with Spanish-language rappers. Reggae,  one of the most influential forms across Latin America, was in evidence all over. Puerto Rican salsa bands were joined by Puerto Rican rock bands, as well as rock bands from Argentina and some from the United States who sang in Spanish. ”There’s so much going on now, it’s hard to make a case that any one music sums up the whole,” said Xavier Roy, Midem’s chief executive. ”It’s rich, both culturally and financially.”