Mon, Nov 06, 2006 - Page 13 News List

Musica country?

Looking for ways to broaden its audience, the Country Music Association has created a task force to see how many Hispanics like the genre

By Travis Loller  /  AP , NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE

"In different areas of the country, they listen to different music,'' she said. "In Miami it's more salsa, merengue and cumbia. California is more Spanglish, hybrid, fusion.''

Rick Rodriguez, who manages the Latin division of Nashville-based Songs for the Planet and works as a song plugger for the same, has been trying to encourage Music Row to mix with Hispanic artists and music.

"I'm a Mexican from South Texas,'' he said. "I grew up listening to people like Freddy Fender and Johnny Rodriguez. If we can get old-school country music, like back in the day what was coming from Hispanic cats, I think it would be big.'' Texas-based singer-songwriter John Arthur Martinez, who was the runner-up on the inaugural season of Nashville Star (a country music talent competition like American Idol), said Hispanic listeners are already there.

"Nashville has not made a conscious effort to court the Hispanic audience on a major scale, but without realizing it they've already attracted people like my sister,'' he said. "Her CD collection is 90 percent country and 10 percent tejano.'' Maritza Baca, a marketer who recently formed the US Hispanic Country Music Association in California, is convinced Hispanics are gravitating toward country. She has met with the CMA twice about it.

"I think there's definitely a trend,'' she said, noting that in a Mexican airport she has heard country music in English played over the intercom system. She said Spain has a Country Music Association, and Argentina just put on a country music festival with artists from South America.

Rick Murray, the Nashville CMA's vice president of strategic marketing, says he wants to see more research before he is convinced. That research should answer questions like whether Spanish-language singers are necessary to lure listeners.

"Is it a Hispanic artist, or is it bringing existing music into the Hispanic market?'' he asked. "Those are two very different things that might complement each other."

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