Berklee's Latin Adventure

Javier Samayoa
January 16, 2008
Person of the Year Juan Luis Guerra '82 with music business/management student Javier Samayoa
The student band poses at the special awards. Clockwise from left: Andres Rotmitrovsky, Lourenco Bittencourt, Ariadna Rodriguez, Dae Hee Kim, Bernardo Hernandez (faculty and director), Mayreni Morel, Paulo Stagnaro, Enrique Trinidad, and Yi-Ting Yang.

What happened in Vegas didn't stay in Vegas at November's Latin Grammy Awards. The Latin music industry and fans gathered in Sin City for the eighth annual event November 7 and 8. And Berklee students were in the thick of it.

Berklee students' fruitful connection with the Latin Grammys started when music business/management professor Peter Alhadeff and students Daniel Diaz, Natalia Bernal, and I attended the awards in New York in 2006. This time, we didn't have to stay in the audience.

Only a month before the awards, eighth-semester music business/management student Daniel got a call from LARAS (Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) asking him to work as an assistant producer for the "Person of the Year" award show, dedicated this year to alumnus Juan Luis Guerra '82.

In less than 24 hours, Daniel was in Miami handling artists' schedules.

"The month before the shows and the week of the Latin Grammys were the best days of my life. I was dealing all day with managers and people from the labels. This exhausting and stressful opportunity gave me so much experience I need to rest for a while now," Daniel joked. "Every Berklee student should take opportunities like these, and luckily I happened to be in the right place at the right time."

Other students happened to be in the right place as well. In September, LARAS asked Berklee to supply a student band for the special awards. Additionally, Andres Rotmistrovsky (jazz composition, Argentina), Juan Andres Ospina (jazz composition major, Colombia), Tomas Altamirano (contemporary writing and production, Mexico), and Jose Sigona (contemporary writing and production and film scoring, Mexico) arranged medleys for each of the nine honorees.

Alhadeff and bass professor Oscar Stagnaro coordinated the eight-piece band, which featured students from Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Peru, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, and South Korea.

Daniel was already working day-in, day-out at Las Vegas when we arrived, and the LARAS coordinators kindly allowed me to volunteer. The job: coordinate artist rehearsals, pickups, deliveries, schedules, and much more.

Daniel commented, "Artists and their managers are often idiosyncratic and conceited. Serving as a middleman between them and LARAS is demanding!"

Not an hour after I started, I was bombarded by phone calls from managers and agents. Chaos reigned as artists spat out demands for black Escalades and hotel suites.

The special awards on Wednesday afternoon had an exclusive guest list of approximately 200 suits (and gowns). The student band, directed by contemporary writing and production professor Bernardo Hernandez, paid tribute to each honoree. People approached the band afterwards to congratulate the Berklee musicians.

"Being part of the Latin Grammys experience was one of the most remarkable adventures I have ever had in my musical life," said Andres. "I got the opportunity to arrange medleys for two artists-Os Paralamas do Sucesso and Alberto Cortez-whom I had admired ever since I was a child. Playing for them was really inspiring."

The business group, including students Roberto Jimenez, Pablo Latapi, and me, wasted no time networking at the lunch. "There's nothing better than testing your communication and networking skills in events like these," said Roberto, a music business/management student.

Hanging out in the same room with prestigious producers like Emilio Estefan, KC Porter, Kike Santander, and the presidents of the Grammys and Latin Grammys was no easy task. They're seldom found alone, and you have to be clear, concise, and determined when speaking to them-or they'll eat you alive.

That night, President Roger H. Brown joined the student band, professors Hernandez and Alhadeff, and me for the elegant Person of the Year dinner. Attendees included Rubén Blades, Emilio Estefan, Diego Torres, acclaimed producers, Billboard executives, and record label presidents. Featured performers included Ricky Martin and Daddy Yankee, but it was the last three numbers that brought the house down-all performed by Guerra. Many of the celebrities continued the festivities afterwards at Caesar's Palace.

Violinist Mayreni Morel, a Dominican Republic native, said, "I couldn't believe it when I was invited to perform at Las Vegas, but the real shock came when I received an invitation to attend the Person of the Year show for Juan Luis Guerra. He is one of the most influential figures in my country."

The Stars Take the (Big) Stage

As the Latin Grammy Awards started, the Heineken-sponsored green carpet shone with exotic and extravagant costumes. Hundreds of excited media and roaring fans lined the way. My heartbeat soared-just a spectator walking with the likes of Andrea Bocelli, Ricky Martin, Daddy Yankee, and Guerra.

Ricky Martin and the Blue Man Group blew everyone away with the opening musical number, followed by performances in various Latin genres. Guerra won an amazing five golden gramophones, including the much-coveted trifecta Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year. He even beat out other alumni in the same categories. In all, Berklee alumni earned 20 nominations.

In the end, everyone considered the Berklee trip a success.

Luis Dousdebes, CFO of LARAS, said, "For the Latin Academy it was a great experience. Back in September we found ourselves in need of additional help. We asked ourselves what we could do to achieve two of LARAS's most important objectives: putting on the highest-quality production and contributing to the education of music students. We know that academic education is very important, but we also believe that there are aspects experienced through these events that cannot be learned in class. We're sure that we achieved both objectives."

Pablo Latapi, a fourth-semester contemporary writing and production major, said, "Opportunities like these are life-changing and necessary for students at Berklee so we can start experimenting with our careers in the industry even before graduation."

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