On Da Beat's recording artists Nigeria's Bella Alubo and Italian-Venezuelan Steffani Milan. Image: Anthony Larbi

A British music studio bets on Latin American rhythms with a U.K. feel to it

Reggaeton conquered the world stage from the U.S., now On Da Beat, an up-and-coming British studio, tests the global potential of acts produced in the UK

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That Latin music genres have been dominating U.S. charts is not big news. Ever since Puerto Rican Luis Fonsi‘s Despacito and Colombian J Balvin‘s Mi Gente broke in Billboard‘s lists, back in 2017, a giant new wave of Latin pop acts singing in Spanish was brought into the limelight, turbocharged by audio streaming platforms.

Due to the huge size of the U.S. market, Latin American musicians received a lot of attention worldwide, and even in places where they are not properly considered mainstream, their trending styles – i.e. reggaeton and its related genres and subgenres –  are influencing a host of other local scenes. On Da Beat, a London-based music studio and talent management company with roots in UK rap, noticed latent demand and its team is now working on developing acts of Latin origin in Britain.

According to Anthony Larbi, founding partner at On Da Beat, Latin music is not yet a huge selling point in the UK at present. “However we see the market growing exponentially in terms of the volume of new artists that are recording in our studio, so our thoughts are that the UK will eventually produce an act that will be able to play on the global playing field”, he told LABS.

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In the U.S., Latin music has continued its strong ascension, and 2019 was the third consecutive year of growing revenues for the genre, which now accounts for 5% of the whole market. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) recently revealed that the category generated $554 million, up 28% compared to the previous year – while the U.S. music market grew 13% on average. Interestingly, the big motor for Latin music is streaming, which accounted for 95% of total Latin music revenues in 2019.

Anthony Larbi, founding partner at On Da Beat. Image: Ivor Alice / courtesy

Larbi says that breaking Latin acts in the British music market presents challenges, with language and infrastructure barriers still playing a significant role. On Da Beat’s strategy, he explains, is to connect these acts to a global audience, focusing on their native countries and Latin communities spread across Europe and North America.

“A team was formed to respond to the challenges and needs of Latino creatives and music executives working within the music industry in the UK. Their mission is to highlight the culture and provide a voice for Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking creatives and by doing so connect their stories to the wider diaspora.”

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On Da Beat already recorded tracks by up-and-coming reggaeton acts such as Colombian Valenciz and Italian-Venezuelan Steffani Milan. They are not yet household names such as Bad Bunny, J Balvin and Ozuna, but that may be a matter of time – or, more to the point, finding that connection to their audiences. 

Colombian reaggaeton singer Valenciz. Image: Ivor Alice / courtesy

“We aim to build on our tradition of opening up niche scenes and developing the careers of music producers with Latin music in the UK while still keeping true to our UK Rap roots”, says Anthony Larbi. LABS talked to him to know some more about the firm’s interest in Latin American cultural acts and the ground they are opening up internationally. Below are excerpts from the interview.

LABS – How important are global streaming platforms to On Da Beat’s productions?

Anthony Larbi – For Latin urban music, it’s proof that a shift is happening globally. Streaming has definitely been part of the reason for the boom in Funk, the renaissance of Reggaeton and the rise of subgenres like NeoPerreo. For On Da Beat streaming is an important aspect especially as the music and the artists are reaching out to global audiences in their respective diasporas as well as local communities in their own city.

Part of the drive at On Da Beat this year is to share their stories and engage the cultures that they identify with. Streaming not only provides the platform to engage fans in Latin America, Africa and the rest of the world but also provide the data to know where and with whom to have conversations that will drive business and generate return of investment. 

When did Latin American music catch your attention?

I think the first time I went to a reggaeton event night was probably 2006. It was a one of a series of nights, the size of the nightclub was about 3,000 people and it was easily sold out. And this was not a one-off event. So there’s been a music scene in London for reggaeton and Latin music for a long time, but it’s kind of underground and it’s very localized to the parts of London where the community’s strongest.

You’ve mentioned that more artists of Latin origin are seeking the studio.

More recently, in the last 12 months, there’s been a lot more artists recording music at our studio in Spanish, primarily. So it’s a quite interesting dynamic in London because you’ve got a lot of cultural melting pots. The Afro community and the Latin community, and loads of other communities, they pretty much live on top of each other, and what you find musically is that this influences the sounds.

So you get Afro artists recording on songs that kind of sound reggaeton, and then you have reggaeton artists recording on songs that are more dancehall or more Afrobeat influenced. And there’s a UK feel to it, a UK production, how can I describe… It’s a bit harsh. I think maybe it’s because of the weather because it’s always pretty much cold here.

Do you see Latin rhythms influencing other pop genres in the UK? I’m thinking about what reggae and ska, not Latin but Caribbean styles, did to punk during the seventies.

Exactly. I wasn’t around, but my dad and my uncle, they were from that scene. Punk rockers and reggae artists, they would pretty much be in the same clubs, they would use the same venues, downstairs would be a reggae night and upstairs would be a punk night. And it’s kind of the same dynamic with afrobeats and reggaeton and dancehall and UK rap. It’s all kind of cross-pollinating.

GottiOnEm, a music producer, at On Da Beat studio in London. Image: Anthony Larbi / courtesy

Can you tell me about On Da Beat’s structure, and its origins? 

We did not start with Latin music, we started with UK rap and we didn’t start with artists, we started with producers and beat makers specifically because we thought they don’t really get the recognition that they deserve in terms of the process of making a song. So we started managing producers. Then we got a big hit, [Big Shaq’s] “Mans Not Hot”, which charted in the UK, it charted in Germany and a few other countries around Europe. And that brought in quite a lot of revenue. So we upgraded and we moved location into a new studio, and that was a benefit for two reasons: we were able to offer people recording facilities and the shift to South London, made us a lot closer to the Latin community in the area that we’re in.

Do you see Latin music becoming mainstream in the UK?

I think it’s a challenge. The primary barrier is language and the secondary barrier is infrastructure, such as dedicated radio stations. So this is something that’s not present in the market for Latino artists in the UK. Breaking in the UK is probably not going to be the main angle.

I think the best way is to connect these guys that are making music in their mother tongue to the places where they’re from. To connect them to audiences in Colombia, South America as a whole, connect them to the communities that are in the United States, communities that are in Europe. 

Would that bring them to a global audience?

I think that plugging them into those audiences will give them a global reach. So then they’re not really reliant on being a household name in the mainstream in the UK. But at the same time, the other angle is going fully into an English speaking track and accessing genres that are popular. Collaborations are becoming more common because, being cynical, if you’ve got genres that are streaming very well that are not necessarily depending on English speaking music, it’s a way to access a whole new market.