A report by Marjua Estevez for Billboard.
On Thursday (Dec. 7), Pandora unveiled the 2018 Latin Artists to Watch, introducing a promising wave of diverse acts.
The acclaimed list is equipped with predictions based off data, industry priorities and curation insights on the artists expected to dominate music charts in 2018.
A.CHAL (new wave R&B; Perivuan), COASTCITY (Caribbean soul; Puerto Rican), Farina (hip-hop and R&B; Colombian), MelyMel (rap en español; Dominican) and LADAMA (folkloric quartet; Colombia, Venezuela, U.S.) are just a few of the names among this year’s bevy of eclectic performers.
“Entrants on the list are chosen through one or all of the following criteria: growth on the platform, potential for growth, audience buzz, cultural relevance, originality, industry buzz, etc.,” explained Marcos Juarez, head of Latin music programming, about the list generated by Pandora’s Latin programming team.
On what exactly determines how promising an artist might be, Juarez had this to say: “Growth on the platform can illustrate an artist’s potential for increasing their audience and becoming more popular… Artists are not necessarily selected based on their potential for audience growth. Artistic merit and originality can also be factors.”
Not only do upcoming and coming artists benefit from being recognized by Pandora in the context of their talent and potential, but the company is especially dedicated to introducing these artists to a broader audience through continued support via their platform and programming initiatives.
Word around Alejandro Chal, known artistically as A.CHAL, has been steadily building over the last two years. Peruvian-born, New York-raised and now a resident of Los Angeles, A.CHAL is emblematic of a generation of young Latin beatcentric vocalists in the United States, who embody a multiplicity of culture, and resonate across a diverse spectrum of audiences. Chal’s skill shines through in his confidence on the mic in breathing life into his artistic vision. His melodic delivery over dark minor chord progressions and trap-esque production sets the tone, and lyrically, he offers a perspective that rings with both confidence and humility. His second full-length, On Gaz, was released this past summer, and momentum continues to build looking ahead to 2018.
Musically, the formula is not unfamiliar. Arsenal Efectivo play straight ahead modern corridos, and they do it well. The trio generates a raw feeling, accentuated by the presence of an acoustic bass anchoring the dual guitars. As is the custom within the genre, Arsenal’s songs focus on the realities of leading an illicit lifestyle. But what is unique is the California-tinged lens through which these stories are told. They have dubbed their style “trap corridos,” and this perspective has won them an enormous audience, landing them on Pandora’s Trendsetters Chart for the past 24 weeks. Their most recent release, En La Fuga, was just released this past November. #freeshrekk
California-born with roots in Michoacán, Christian Nava has the vocal qualities and measured delivery of a classic Mexican balladeer, with the added element of being a capable songwriter. Equally at home interpreting norteñas, or alongside a banda, Nava’s listener base has steadily grown over the past year, as indicated by his appearances on Pandora’s Predictions Chart. Nava is positioned to be a name to watch for going forward, with the added advantage of being fully bi-cultural in a market where the audience is increasingly younger and similarly acculturated. What remains to be seen is the extent to which these multiple influences manifest in his music going forward.
COASTCITY is Jean Rodríguez and Danny Flores, both of whom boast production, writing, composition and coaching resumes that extend to the floor. They’ve worked with some of the biggest artists in contemporary Latin music, all of which has been extensively documented this year. Even more exciting is the prospect of what’s still to come from this Boricua artist-producer duo. Having released only two singles so far, it’s difficult to recall more industry buzz surrounding a new group. They’ve dubbed their sound “soul Caribeño” (“Caribbean soul”), and that’s an apt description for the music they create, which exists between genres and is the sum of all of their musical parts working in smooth, laid-back tropical tandem. Check for more to come in 2018.
At 19-years-old, Hawthorne, CA native Omar Banos, aka Cuco, has already accomplished a lot. He has been featured in multiple publications this year, sold out a multi-city tour across the Southwest, co-headlined festival stages and created an ever-growing fan base of devoted followers. He is the epitome of a DIY artist, having played all instruments on his recordings, while crafting a sound that falls into a cross-section of dream pop, lowrider oldies and ‘70s ballads, with a gentle kiss of an LA IDGAF attitude of indifference. Your boy is a romantic too, a quality that is not lost on his legion of young fans. This is the Chicano revival of 2018. But don’t actually call it that. It’s just Cuco, and he is a star.
You can’t put Farina in a box. She was born in Medellín, Colombia, and traces her roots back to Chinese, Arabic, Andean and Caribbean ancestry. On top of her musical prowess, she is also an actress and a designer. Musically, she has proven herself capable across multiple contemporary Latin genres, and in 2018, she’s preparing to release her third full-length album, Mejor Que Yo, which looks to be her most high profile international release. Farina’s voice and delivery emanate a swagger and confidence which makes her stand out, and her taste in production additionally sets her apart amongst a deluge of similar sounding releases. Her most recent single, “Mucho Pa’ Ti,” was just released in mid-November.
As a genre, norteñas con sax (saxophone) has grown exponentially in popularity on Pandora recently. While the genre is not new, there are a crop of young performers who continue to push it forward and introduce it to new audiences. As the frontman of Geru y Su Legión 7, 16-year-old Jerundio García is one of those artists. What distinguishes Geru as a vocalist is not only his smooth tone, which easily glides through higher registers, but also his phrasing, which hints at his rural upbringing in La Coronilla del Ocote, Municipio de Zapopan, Jalisco. In general, this variant of norteñas is firmly rooted in the romantic legacy of the genre, and Geru pays fitting tribute to this tradition, and has positioned himself as one of the voices to watch in regional Mexican music.
Jesse Baez has been turning heads in the indie Latin world for a few years now, and that shouldn’t be surprising. Along with a handful of other artists, Baez is ushering in a movement of Spanish-language R&B, which everyone will be emulating in T-minus very soon. What makes him standout is his artistic vision within the genre. While some Latin artists are entering into R&B through the natural progression of genre evolution associated with the trap movement, Baez has a truly unique flair for and understanding of soul music. With only a handful of songs released so far, including his most recent single, “Tema 1 (Swoosh),” 2018 should be the year that he breaks out and flexes on the rest. Arriba, Guate.
As a songwriter for some of the biggest hits in reggaetón and Latin urban music, Puerto Rican-born Jhay Cortez has remained largely behind the scenes, alongside his production partner, Egberto “Fino Como El Haze” Rosa. Most recently in 2017, they are responsible for huge tracks by Ozuna, Daddy Yankee,Nicky Jam and Yandel, to name-drop a few. But there comes a time when songwriters feel compelled to step out from behind the curtain and grab the mic. Such is the story with Mr. Cortez, who in the latter half of this year, has released two singles as a solo artist. In 2018, we can look forward to watching this accomplished songwriter grow as a soloist, as he continues to perform his own material in a genre where that can be hard to come by. Dímelo, Jhay-Co.
Independent regional Mexican music has a huge footprint in Los Angeles. Many of the biggest acts of the genre are being embraced in Southern California first, prior to gaining broader national recognition. Before they are picked up by terrestrial radio, Pandora sees the impact of these artists on distinct audience segments in a big way. Kanales is one of these artists. He’s seen huge audience growth in the last year, as reflected on Pandora’s Trendsetters Chart, where he has held firm for the past nine weeks. Writing and performing all his own material, Kanales’ brand of corridos has struck a chord of authenticity with fans. The native of Sinaloa just released a full-length album in October, and looks to be an active factor in 2018.
So-called folk traditions are not static, and LADAMA, an artistic intersection of four musicians from Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and the United States, are articulate purveyors of this truth. Their self-titled debut manages to realize what is often artistically difficult to accomplish when a variety of beloved genres collide. They succeed to interpret and create music within the framework of iconic Latin American genres, without sounding derivative or inauthentic. The resulting creative work offers thoughtful new expressions of these beloved musical traditions, pushing them forward with respect for the past.
María Luisa Trevejo, or Malu as she’s known, epitomizes the new school route to fame.
The Cuban-American starlet blew up as an internet phenomenon on the strength of her social media personae, and grew her influence across platforms with dance videos, beauty tips and general advice for the 15-year-old populace at large. She parlayed that notoriety into a burgeoning music career, releasing her first single, “Luna Llena,” this past summer. Without a doubt, Trevejo understands how to create celebrity, and she has the talent and will to back it up. With a single, “En Mi Mente” releasing this month, and additional releases slated for 2018, she is all but guaranteed to have millions of eyes on her.
While still under the radar for many Latin pop listeners in the US, México is producing a crop of talented young artists who are making their presence known in an arena that has typically been dominated by other regions in Latin America. Mario Bautista is part of this new generation, and he has already amassed a huge following both in his native market and internationally. He is now turning his attention to the states. Bautista has a huge social media presence, and given the facile exchange of information and culture between the two bordering countries, it seems his name will only continue to grow in the United States in 2018. Most recently, he dropped a concert film and accompanying album, Zona Preferente, recorded live in México.
Venezuelan brothers Mau and Ricky Montaner, known artistically as Mau y Ricky, are another example of accomplished songwriters stepping out of the shadows and taking their place in the spotlight. To see them perform, it’s surprising that this transition didn’t happen sooner, especially given that they spent their childhood and adolescence being exposed to this side of the industry. As siblings, it goes without saying that they have a natural synergy when performing their brand of rhythmic Latin pop, and this formula has landed them on Pandora’s Prediction Chart for 15 straight weeks. Look for them to break out in big in 2018.
La Mamá del Rap, aka MelyMel has bars for days. The Dominican rapper/singer/actress/producer is easily one of the most gifted lyricists in the Latin rap game. In a genre that has at times taken a backseat amidst the popularity of reggaetón, rap en español is on the verge of a renaissance in the United States, which has MelyMel poised to be a factor in 2018. Working to her advantage is her versatility across styles, as she is equally at home spitting venom, as she is dropping a melodic verse on the mic. In an age where many of the most popular artists are utilizing ghost writers, it’s refreshing to see a female MC flex with so much authority on the track. Her upcoming album, Dragon Queen, is slated for release next year. Zero dembow.
Puerto Rican rapper and vocalist Pedro-Juan Vázquez Bragan, known as PJ Sin Suela, is an MC with a doctorate in medicine. In the aftermath of Hurricane María, he provided medical services to at risk communities on the island, so you already know he’s a principled man. There is a clarity to his agile lyricism that is refreshing, void of filler and unnecessary ego, and his production is rooted in the classic sample-based era of hip-hop. To say he’s a voice of the people sounds clichéd, but he does sharply articulate a certain reality of contemporary youth culture in PR that is hard to come by in popular music these days. Most recently, he supported Residente as an opener on his US tour, which is a powerful cosign. Look for his debut album, Vital, to be released in 2018.
With roots in electronic music production, Mexican producer and vocalist, Edmundo Gómez Moreno, aka Raymix, began incorporating those influences into his own brand of cumbia sonidera in 2014, which gradually garnered him increasing praise in the republic and abroad in the states. His distinct take on the genre landed Raymix on Pandora’s Trendsetters Chart for 25 weeks in a row in 2017, and his listenership has continued to grow from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Raymix is part of the new generation of sonideros who has taken the genre in new directions and exposed the music to new audiences. We look forward to what the new year has to bring.
Rosalía Vila has already made a name for herself in Spain. The catalana has turned heads with her stylized interpretations of flamenco, that manage to embrace tradition, while infusing the music with her own voice and vision. Accompanied by the sparse and subdued guitar of Raül Refree, Rosalía’s work has a minimal feel that build a hushed sense of intimacy, making her work personal and revealing. Nominated for a Latin Grammy this year in the best new artist category on the heels of her debut release, Los Ángeles, she is now gaining recognition outside of the Iberian Peninsula, and at the young age of 23, this looks to just be the beginning of what we can hope will be a long career.
Since their debut album Salvaje, released in 2015, Sotomayor has been receiving favorable reviews and a growing audience, both in the US and their native Mexico. Riding a wave of creativity emanating from the city formerly known as el DF, siblings Raúl and Paulina call their genre “Latin-American electronica,” and with their subtle synth blends of cumbia and afro beats, they not only explore the diverse heritage through sound, but they can also make anyone from any background get up and dance. Their sophomore release Conquistador proves that there is no such thing as beginner’s luck. Most recently, they have been working the festival circuit and opened for Bomba Estéreo in CDMX.
TINI is already a star in her own right. From having gained international accolades as the lead actress in the Disney Channel series, Violeta, to selling millions of soundtrack albums and playing for sold out arenas in Europe and Latin America. The Buenos Aires-born artist is now out for more. She recently released a single titled, “Te Quiero Más,” featuring Nacho, and is currently working with “Despacito” producers Mauricio Rengifo and Andres Torres, on her 2018 album release.