he Catholic archbishop of Guadalajara is one of the most influential promoters in the city. What he says in Mexico’s second largest metropolitan area – Guadalajara has a population of approximately 4 million – matters. And so Francisco Cardinal Robles Ortega consistently guarantees full houses at the city’s theatres, concert halls, and event venues. Remarkable, it’s true, but that’s not all that’s remarkable about the vibrant cultural landscape found in the “Pearl of the West” (Perla del Occidente), as Guadalajara is affectionately called by its residents – the city’s music scene, in particular, not infrequently outshines that of Mexico City, which is 500 kilometres away. This is only partly due to the fact that Guadalajara is the birthplace of mariachi, the most well-known form of traditional Mexican music, and the typical ensembles used in its performance. Nowadays, a more influential player on the city’s cultural scene is Igor Lozada, director of the culture department at the University of Guadalajara. The university is the most important organiser of cultural events both in the city and in the state of Jalisco, where Guadalajara is located. Lozada not only is responsible for the biggest and most prestigious film festival in Mexico (Festival Internacional de Cine) and the Guadalajara International Book Fair (Feria Internacional del Libro), considered to be the most important book fair in the Spanish-speaking world and the second largest book fair in the world after Frankfurt. He also runs various theatres, cinemas, and concert halls with capacities of 200 to 10,000 people. FIMPRO, the main music-industry conference in Mexico, is also organised by the university’s culture department – a fact that one could almost be forgiven for forgetting: after all, with just 800 attendees it’s quite manageable in comparison to the film festival and book fair. And yet FIMPRO is an event of very special significance.
“Who will be the next headliner in Mexico?” This question, Lozada explains, was posed to a number of people from the Mexican music industry a few years ago at a conference in Columbia. “Everyone was quiet; nobody said anything. That was shocking for us”, he recalls. The reason, he continued, lies in the country’s traditional support structures. “The tradition here is that the government provides culture to the people. But now, with subsidies decreasing, artists and the industry have to create revenues themselves.” But the knowledge and structures needed to do this are often lacking, he added.
“The tradition here is that the government provides culture to the people. But now, with subsidies decreasing, artists and the industry have to create revenues themselves.”
A market for recorded music is only now beginning to develop at a low level. In the past, this particular sector of the economy was almost entirely absent – as in many music markets in underdeveloped or less-developed countries – thanks to the proliferation of bootlegs and burned CDs. Still, just under 10 million people in Mexico, a country with 130 million people, have taken advantage of Spotify’s and Apple Music’s offers, which are priced at the equivalent of five euros a month. So far, however, this has mostly been of benefit to internationally known artists. Mexican artists and new acts from abroad are having a rough time.
A similar situation can basically also be found in the live market. Tickets are mainly sold for shows featuring international stars or a small number of Mexican crowd-pullers, such as Zoé, Natalia Lafourcade, or DLD. These shows are held in major venues or stadiums and are usually produced by OCESA or Zignia Live, companies that are in fourth and tenth place respectively in the rankings of the world’s biggest promoters. But big business doesn’t reach the grass-roots level.
“It is almost impossible to do a tour in Mexico with a small band”, says Ariel Etbul, Country Manager in Mexico for the digital distributor Believe. “There are no structures to fall back on. The artists have to do everything themselves.” That’s why his project Circuito Indio, which he’s doing with the help of a brewery, a restaurant chain, and OCESA, is something completely new, Etbul explains. Twelve bands play in twelve venues in different Mexican cities each Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. “They’re on tour for a month, playing for audiences that they’d otherwise never be able to reach.” The series is designed for the long-term, he adds, and is meant to function as a means of both promotion and professional development for new Mexican artists and bands.
The absence of small and medium-sized companies that provide touring and marketing services, the lack of small and medium-sized venues, and, basically, the dearth of sufficient know-how on the part of artists are the most serious shortcomings of the Mexican music industry, according to Volker May, chairman of the International Music Managers Forum (IMMF). “Mexico may have quality media and five strong cities for live entertainment but the building of networks and reliable structures is of prime importance in supporting new talent and, generally speaking, in establishing a music industry that functions at all levels.” The close association with the US music sector is also becoming increasingly problematic given political developments, May says, while the orientation toward Europe is growing. “And, meanwhile”, he adds, “it has also become clear that you don’t have to go through Spain to enter the European market.”
“Mexico may have quality media and five strong cities for live entertainment but the building of networks and reliable structures is of prime importance in supporting new talent and, generally speaking, in establishing a music industry that functions at all levels.”
Igor Lozada from the University of Guadalajara agrees: “Trump helps us a lot to reconsider and rearrange relations. … Europe is in many regards closer to Mexico. So, I think, it is a very good moment to start cooperations.”
For this to happen, it seems, Mexican artists and their representatives have to continue doing their homework. And Lozada and his university department have set out to help, through FIMPRO, a variety of training programmes, and through financial support. Even if, Lozada says, for some shows in your own venues you’re now working with industry giant OCESA, it’s always about channelling surpluses to social and cultural projects. “If you don’t have a social connection, it is easier to be corrupted”, Lozada states, touching on one of the scourges of his country. “That’s why everything we do in this field must include something social.” And so the university is gearing up to bring about long-lasting changes not only to Mexico’s music industry but also to the city of Guadalajara itself. “We are planning a performing arts centre that will become the centre of the city within the next years. So, the cathedral will maybe no longer be a church, but a theatre.”
But the archbishop need not worry. The new futurist cathedral of culture already stands high on one of the city’s hills. And his appraisals of the cultural programme will continue to be awaited with bated breath. “Whenever bare skin is seen on stage at a theatre performance or a provocative music act plays a concert, the cardinal responds with harsh condemnation”, says one event organiser. “And then you know the place will be packed.”