Univision and Javier Limón Unveil First U-Lab Emerging Artists

Kimberly Ashton
March 3, 2017
Nella Rojas, Desmond "D.J." Scaife Jr., and Tonina Saputo are the first class of emerging artists from U-Lab.
Javier Limón, artistic director of Berklee's Mediterranean Music Institute; Spanish superstar Alejandro Sanz; and Ernesto Estrada, owner of Space 52 at a private U-Lab showcase in Miami, Florida, on February 23, 2017.
Carlos Barrios
Carlos Barrios

U-LAB, a partnership between Univision and Berklee's Javier Limón to support new musical talent, recently announced its "first class of emerging artists" are Marianella "Nella" Rojas B.M. 15, Desmond "D.J." Scaife Jr. B.M. '16, and current Berklee student Tonina Saputo

"In a new, much more global world, a diverse new generation of artists is appearing, much freer and open to mixing styles without prejudice," said Limón, a Grammy-winning producer who serves as artistic director of Berklee's Mediterranean Music Institute (MMI). "These guys are the example that you can make quality and cutting-edge music and still connect with large audiences. They are the future of music and they show how many different paths there are to reach the same place: beauty."

Launched in July 2016, U-LAB aims to provide young musicians with artistic instruction and direction from experienced industry experts while also leveraging Univision properties to provide creative output and distribution. "This initiative was created to foster young talent, support social good and innovation—something much needed in Miami and in the music industry overall in order to revamp," Alejandro Sanz ‘13H, who, along with Jorge Drexler, serves as a creative associate, said at the launch of the initiative in July.

The three artists were introduced to key members of Miami's music industry and cultural community at an event on February 22 at Space 52, where they performed classic covers and original songs, produced by Limón and Nacho Gonzalez '16. Later this spring, U-LAB's permanent home—a warehouse space that will house recording studios, video editing suites, and working space—will open in Miami.

Rojas, a vocalist from Isla Margarita, Venezuela, majored in contemporary writing and production and performance at Berklee, where she was part of the popular student group 3 Sudacas, which fused the music of Colombia, Brazil, and Venezuela with jazz, pop, and other genres. Rojas was one of several Berklee students who performed “La Musica No Se Toca” with Sanz live at the 2013 Latin Grammys.

Watch Rojas perform with 3 Sudacas in the Berklee Internet Radio Network (BIRN):

Scaife, a gospel and soul singer and pianist from Alabama, was an active performer at Berklee. He led Desmond Scaife Jr. and Family, a 16-piece R&B band that performed at convocation in 2014, and went with the Berklee India Exchange to Mumbai, India, in May 2016 to perform in a concert at which three Indian musicians where awarded Berklee’s A. R. Rahman Scholarship.

Watch Scaife perform live at Berklee's Red Room at Cafe 939:

Carlos Barrios

Bassist and vocalist Saputo is an MMI Emerging Artist majoring in professional music. Raised in St. Louis, Missouri, in a multicultural family from African and Italian backgrounds, Saputo plays in many different genres while making each her own. While in high school she had the chance to perform in New York City at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center.

Watch Saputo perform with Javier Limón for Refugio del Sonido:

Scaife and Rojas performed with Sanz last summer at U-LAB's first project, the Rise Up as One concert at the border in San Diego, California. Saputo has been involved in the MMI's Refugio del Sonido (Refuge of Sound) initiative and has appeared in concert with Limón as part of that project. 

"Their sound is wildly different from each other, but they share beautiful execution and a very refined musicianship, a Godsend in our rather arid musical landscape. These are artists to ooh at, but also to relish," Billboard's Leila Cobo wrote on February 28.

Though they will be tough acts to follow, Limón said the project is just getting started. "U-LAB will become a global reference of quality music, and soon it will change the future of music," he said.