Q’s With Latin Recording Academy CEO Manuel Abud: ‘We Needed To Go International’

GROWING WITH THE MUSIC: Manuel Abud, CEO of the Latin Recording Academy, said the Academy wanted this year’s Latin Grammys to be as big and global as the music it honors, and having the ceremony in Europe was a good opportunity to highlight the growth and reach of música Latina. Photo courtesy of Latin Recording Academy

Two years after being appointed CEO of the Latin Recording Academy, Manuel Abud is on the verge of making history for not only the Latin Grammys but any Grammys show. A ceremony will be held outside of the U.S. for the first time, making the trek to Sevilla, Spain, a city known for its traditions of flamenco and bullfighting. The move wasn’t without controversy, as many felt the Academy should have held the ceremony at a venue in the Americas, but Abud hasn’t shied away from the conversation and spoke with Pollstar about the decision to have a show in Sevilla, going global and the remarkable growth of Latin music the past few years.|

Pollstar: How are things coming along?
Manuel Abud: There’s a lot of planning and a lot of hard work from my team and our partners, all across the spectrum. … It’s coming along beautifully — not without challenges. What I tell my team, my board members, the labels and artists is, let’s enjoy the ride. We know it’s not going to be perfect, but it’s going to be different. I think everybody should be prepared to embrace some differences and let’s just enjoy the ride because there are not many times in your professional life that you have the opportunity to do something for the first time. If you think about it, the magnitude of what we’re doing here, in 65 years of Grammys and 25 years of Latin Grammys, this is the first time that a gramophone will be awarded outside the states. That’s a big deal.

What are you looking forward to?
We don’t want to just replicate what we do in Las Vegas in Sevilla because if we do that, we’ve lost the game. One of the things that you’re going to see is that Sevilla is one more character in this play. It’s not just a place where we’re doing it, but an active participant with its culture, its richness, its warmth.
My hope is when you get to Sevilla, you will be arriving at a Latin Grammys city — just like when you enter an Olympic city, you know you’re arriving at the Olympics that day.

Why did the Latin Recording Academy feel it was the right time to go to Spain?
We needed to go international. We decided that part of our strategic plan and growth should come from a stronger presence in international markets, enhancing everything from the telecast to a true comprehensive Latin Grammy week experience. And we thought to do that, it was time for us to take it out of the U.S.

Now, Spain — I hate the word but it’s true — was more opportunistic. We knew that there were some markets — because of their size and engagement with the Latin Academy — in that top tier. The obvious suspects are Mexico, Brazil and Colombia — that have the infrastructure, the membership and the engagement to welcome something of the magnitude of the Latin Grammys. Really the planets needed to align themselves, from infrastructure and the funding, which is no small thing. It’s not the only driver, but we cannot minimize the importance of the funding. There is a substantial investment from the Junta de Andalucia to get us there, and then also the infrastructure and the ability of the infrastructure within our needs.

It definitely fits that narrative of bridging continents together.
That was the main driver. We started with the strategic plan four or five years ago about going international, doing the acoustic sessions here and there and going to different cities. Spain has always been very interested in having us there.

What are your thoughts on the state of Latin music and its growth?
We got to stay with the times. Our artists, our music is clearly global, and I truly believe that the Latin Academy has that responsibility with its membership to be that global. Latin music is going through an amazing moment. What makes [this moment] special is that they’re not crossing over. They’re singing in Spanish. You had Bad Bunny performing and hosting “Saturday Night Live.” I don’t normally talk about one specific artist, but I think it’s a part of the movement that we’re seeing. … You see more and more collaborations from different genres and different countries. It’s very exciting. It’s a great time to be where we are.

There are also new categories and fields this year highlighting Portuguese urban and songwriters. It’s hard keeping up with the growth of Latin music, but some felt there was a lack of representation of artists involved in the recent surge of Mexican music. Is the Academy considering any changes in the future?
It’s a reality that the genres keep pushing, music keeps evolving, and part of that evolution is that the traditional genres as we know them start pushing the limits of the definition of that genre. And I think that it is our responsibility to keep up with the times.
I can’t tell you a lot because we’re working on it and there are a lot of committees and a process, but one of the things that we’re working on and that you can expect in the near future is some evolution in our categories on the Mexican side to properly accommodate all of them, just like we did with the urban in Portuguese. We need to really keep pushing those boundaries just as our artists are pushing them.

Tell me about this year’s Person of the Year recipient, Laura Pausini.
We thought it was the right time to look beyond her nationality because this is not about honoring someone who only speaks your language. On the contrary, Laura is international and a true global artist and goes hand in hand with the globalization of Latin music and the Latin Recording Academy being a true global entity. Laura is an amazing human being and philanthropist, and she makes contributions to a lot of different causes.

Last year’s show celebrated the multigenerational aspect of Latin music, and it seems like this year is really celebrating diversity and unity.
That’s exactly how I always wanted to put it because, as much as I reference the Olympics, the difference is that this is not a competition. It’s a celebration of everybody. I’m really thrilled about what we’re doing here, and the response of the industry and my team has been amazing, and I hope the experience for everybody is just as amazing as we are working hard to make it happen.