¡Mujeres Fabulosas! Latin Recording Academy’s Leading Ladies Break It Down

Lila Downs
– Lila Downs
Latin Grammy/Grammy winning singer-songwriter and social activist.

The Latin Recording Academy’s 2019 Leading Ladies of Entertainment recognizes professional and socially conscious women within the arts and entertainment fields who have made significant contributions while inspiring the next generation of female leaders. 

This year’s honorees are María Elisa Ayerbe, audio engineer and producer; Lila Downs, Latin Grammy/Grammy winning singer-songwriter and social activist; Luana Pagani, President and Partner of Seitrack US; Dayanara Torres, actress, model, author, and former Miss Universe; Elsa Yep, CFO/Executive Vice President of Operations, Universal Music Latin America & Iberian Peninsula.
Pollstar surveyed each honoree toward learning more about them and their keys to success. 

What does it mean to you to receive this honor from the Latin Grammys? 
María Elisa Ayerbe: It is a great joy for me.  This award recognizes the strength of women that have fought their way through this extremely tough industry and have succeeded in their professional goals. I am deeply grateful to be considered a part of this selected group of ladies.
Lila Downs: I’m so fortunate to see such a change in my lifetime. Women’s presence and testimonies have been essential in our music.  Planting the seed of hope through music has resulted in several generations of hopeful and empathetic people. I look forward to continue performing and including students of all ages in our shows and supporting educational programs that teach community values and music education.
Luana Pagani: Throughout my career I never worked to be recognized, fortunately every day I wake up loving what I do. Receiving this recognition is an honor beyond words and a big responsibility to be better every day, as an executive and as a person.
Dayanara Torres: This is one of the most significant honors I have earned in my life. I learned early in my career every step and decision I made served as an inspiration to others who also had big dreams, but perhaps felt they did not have the financial means to achieve them. So, in everything I do, I carry that with me, the beauty and honor of being a role model as well as the great responsibility. When I won Miss Universe, I was representing my island, specifically young women from PR and no matter what I have done since then, it is something that I keep very present, whether I am doing a role in a movie or series, judging on “Mira Quien Baila” or managing my personal life (which is not so personal nowadays with social media, lol). For the Latin Grammys to recognize me fills me with pride and gratitude.
Elsa Yep: It is a great honor and I am very thankful for this recognition from the Latin Grammys. This means a lot to me for inspiring all young professionals in finance, human resources and operational areas of the entertainment industry. 
Luana Pagani
– Luana Pagani
music executive, President & Partner, Seitrack US
What personal accomplishments are you most proud of?
María Elisa Ayerbe: To be elected as the Chair of the Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing in Florida and Board Governor of our local Florida chapter. Fellow audio engineering and producers in Florida have chosen me to speak on behalf of our community about our goals, successes and struggles. It is a great honor that I have taken with tremendous respect for the ones that have come before me.
Lila Downs: Writing songs about the traditional cooks who work in the kitchens in Mèxico and the U.S.
Luana Pagani: Having had a role in the worldwide career of artists that I love and admire, such as Alejandro Fernandez, Gloria Estefan, Ricky Martin and Shakira is, of course, a privilege and great pride. In addition, finding opportunities or opening international markets for up-and-coming artists is something I do with great passion and enjoy every day. On the personal side, having raised my two daughters to become compassionate and creative young women is very rewarding.
Dayanara Torres: I am certainly proud of having become Miss Universe in representation of my island in 1993 at the young age of 18 and how much that changed my life, opening my life up completely, from living in a poor household to seeing the world with such an adventurous spirit, one that I didn’t even know I had. I moved to the Philippines for five years when I was only 19, that’s only a year older than my son Cristian so I look back and realize now that it was very brave. There I started my hosting and acting career which I have continued in between being a very dedicated mom to my two boys. Being their mother is certainly my greatest accomplishment but I am also proud that I have always lived my life with integrity and that service to others has always been ongoing in my life from being an international ambassador to UNICEF to volunteering with  the San Jorge Children’s Hospital in Puerto Rico (they treat kids with cancer), and even raised a lot of money for them right after Hurricane Maria while doing what I love on “Mira Quien Baila.” In general I am also proud of my resilience – no matter what setback I encounter – I always rise above it. With my stage 3 cancer diagnosis, I never let myself feel sorry for myself or stop working, I continued to work and immediately saw the blessing that it was that I could educate and help so many so that they never have to go through what I am going through. That too became a mission in my life and I am very proud of that.
Elsa Yep: Taking responsibility of the family business at an early age, moving from my country of birth of Peru to Canada and being the first in the family to pursue a professional career in the U.S. Having inspired my siblings to follow their dreams. 
María Elisa Ayerbe
– María Elisa Ayerbe
audio engineer and producer
Who were your mentors and how did they influence and inspire you?
María Elisa Ayerbe: I have had several mentors in my life: My mom who has always been a role model for me. When I was in high school I was not the best in math but I really wanted to become an audio engineer. When my calculus teacher found out I wanted to study engineering, she made me stay in for lunch and practice math, from Monday through Friday for an entire semester! She gave me the chance to succeed and I did. I got into the Audio Engineering Bachelor’s degree and now I even have a Masters in Audio Recording. Thank you Mrs Reznicek! In college, I had a great recording professor, Jorge Diaz. He truly taught me the ART behind recording, the power of a microphone and how to capture the best takes. Then of course, Julio Reyes Copello. He took me into his studio days after I moved to Miami, trusted in my talent and skills, and allowed me to work for artists that I had always admired: JLo, Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin, Laura Pausini and so many others. 
Lila Downs: A gentleman from my hometown, Tlaxiaco, who played the piano called Luis Vega; my mother Anita Sánchez, who took me to the markets of Mexico and made me observe the women; my father, Allen Downs, who urged me to find happiness, and to seek truth.
Luana Pagani: I learn things every day from everyone, from the interns at my office to seasoned executives. I have been very fortunate to have more than one mentor in my career but, if I were to mention one person, it would be Frank Welzer, my boss for many years at Sony Music, who never even cared I was a woman and gave me many opportunities to grow professionally and challenge myself every step of the way.
Dayanara Torres: My mentors have always been my mom and dad. My mom because she is the strongest woman I know and she is there for everyone and makes it seem effortless. She is my rock, absolutely. My father because of his amazing spirit and sense of humor, no matter how many adversities he had in life, health-wise and career-wise, etc. He was always upbeat, happy, making jokes, 
it was impossible to be depressed next to 
him. His sense of humor is something my sister, brothers and I have inherited and it has made us so strong and able to handle anything.
Elsa Yep: I have been fortunate to have been inspired by several mentors in my life.  Firstly, my grandfather had influenced me as a child to be a risk-taker and not be afraid to explore new things. From my mother I got the determination and strength. In my early professional career, my first boss, Cora; who was an accomplished finance multinational executive influenced me to pursue a Master education and follow my professional dream in the U.S. Then, in my career in the music business, Jesus Lopez supported me from the very beginning to evolve and take on roles and responsibilities that I knew I was capable and prepared to take; and has inspired me on his forward-thinking and vision. 

Dayanara Torres
– Dayanara Torres
actress, model, author, and former Miss Universe
What challenges have you faced in your career and how did you overcome them?
María Elisa Ayerbe: Women audio engineers and producers constitute less than 2% of the ENTIRE musical industry. When I was a young audio student, I was bullied or looked down upon by my male classmates. I was told that a woman would never become a respected audio engineer or producer. After graduation, male peers still looked down on me, talked trash about me, and sometimes even stole jobs from me. But I kept pushing, finding artists, producers, composers and fellow engineers who wouldn’t care who I was but trusted my artistic vision. I have ALWAYS believed in myself and my talents, people can talk and act however they want, I know WHO I am and WHAT I am here for. 
Lila Downs: Being the boss of a group of men. I realized I had to prove my virtuosity to gain credibility in the male’s world. Now, I’ve learned respect is something you teach by example.
Luana Pagani: I am a woman and I was a working mother at a very young age, that in itself is quite challenging within the corporate world but frankly, it was never a burden. I love working with creative artists, the idea of giving them tools to be able to connect with the people out there and creating plans to accomplish this is so fascinating and powerful that the rest somehow loses its weight.
Dayanara Torres: There have been many challenges and perhaps some decisions I may have done differently, like not continuing to pursue my career for several years. I thought at the time that it would take away from my boys but I now realize that it is quite the opposite. They love to see me on stage, on television, to see their mom fulfilled and truly happy. One of my greatest joys has been discovering that.
Elsa Yep: Being in charge of a region as diverse and complex as Latin America can be, I have faced a variety of challenges, ranging from the domination of physical piracy in many of our territories, local economy and political instabilities to some other challenges such as the development of new business models to building a full service entertainment division, GTS.  This constant evolving of the music industry requires thinking out of the box and flexibility to adapt quickly to transformations in order to excel over these challenges.

Elsa Yep
– Elsa Yep
CFO/Executive Vice President of Operations, Universal Music Latin America & Iberian Peninsula

What advice would you give to up-and-coming Latina women trying to make it in your field?
María Elisa Ayerbe: Never take criticism and bad comments personally – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. If you really love your job as an audio engineer or producer, don’t get discouraged. Do not hesitate when someone tells you that you are wrong. Now this doesn’t mean you should be stubborn! Humbleness is the most important skill in our world. Listen to your heart, trust your experience and talent.
Lila Downs: Perform as much as you can. Enjoy yourself and others on the stage. If you want people to respect you, respect yourself.
Luana Pagani: Advice is a bit of a big word. What I would say to a Latina or any other woman, for that matter, is to prepare, to study, to work hard and be generous with your peers but also to enjoy life. Most of the hardest work moments have a funny side to them, losing the capacity to appreciate that makes life really hard. You are the writer of your story, make it beautiful.
Dayanara Torres: I would tell them to go after their dreams, work hard for them with all their heart and might and never let anyone tell them they cannot do something or that they are not worthy. To have this passion and conviction and never give up you must also be true to yourself and to your life’s work and mission. Do not get derailed doing what others would rather you do or how they would want you to act. Your worth and strength absolutely come from within.
Elsa Yep: Believe in yourself, always be prepared, follow your instincts and be open  always to learn.