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"I always believed J Balvin would be a superstar": IQ talks to famed Latin music manager Rebeca León about Latin’s greatest stars and her career to date
By Anna Grace on 22 Aug 2019
Update: the quotation “I am the only female executive I know” appeared in a previous edition of this article. Rebeca León did not use these words, IQ apologises for the misunderstanding.
With over 20 years in the business, Rebeca León is a pioneer in the Latin music space, initiating the career of hit reggaeton artist J Balvin and managing fast-rising Spanish star Rosalía.
Having served as senior vice president of Latin talent at AEG, León is now chief executive of her own management company, Lionfish Entertainment, which she founded along with Colombian musician Juanes.
As Latin music continues to gain more traction across the globe, IQ catches up with León to find out the secrets behind her success, discuss the sometimes male-dominated Latin music business and gain insight into the potential of Rosalía’s Flamenco-infused rhythms.
IQ: Why Latin music?
RL: I think it was a combination of my own cultural background – I was born to Cuban parents in Miami and grew up with the culture – and good timing. I moved back to Miami after college and there were lots of Latin labels around. I started working at Sony Music Latin in 1998 in the midst of a crossover track explosion, so it was a really exciting time to be involved in Latin music.
You really grew the profile of Latin music in LA and across the US during your tenure at AEG, can you tell us a bit more about your time there?
I was at AEG for eleven years. I was hired to book the then Nokia Theatre (now 7,100-cap. Microsoft Theatre) at entertainment complex LA Live.
The idea was to bring Latin shows to that venue. Before, Latin artists were only really playing New York and Miami and I was asking myself why. We became the headquarters for Latin music in LA and I was the only promoter in the company that could really book Latin shows around the whole country.
AEG were really great to me, they gave me huge wings and plenty of opportunities to grow. Latin music and, in particular, reggaeton music, began reaching new markets across the whole of the United States.
“Latin artists were only really playing New York and Miami and I was asking myself why”
Why did you decide to make the move to setting up your own management company?
I think going into management was the natural next step for me. I was lucky to have had experience with record labels, promoters and management previously, so I was able to see the whole thing and apply all that knowledge through being a manager. It seemed like an amazing opportunity to be up close to people I really respected – the artists – it was always something that I wanted to do and it felt like a privilege to do so.
I really love being creative and managing allowed me to be in a more collaborative relationship with the artist, rather than just inheriting something. I could be on the inside of the long term strategy – setting goals and creating paths – and that was very attractive for me.
It reminds me of when I started working with J Balvin and we both believed he would be a global superstar. We put a strategy together from the very beginning in order to make it happen. That was a very exciting time.
You’re now managing Spanish singer Rosalía who has a very different sound to other Latin artists – is this signalling a new direction for Latin music?
I think Rosalía is super special. An artist like that only comes around once every 50 years. What people are responding to is the authenticity of her very unique take on music. She produces and writes at least in part all her own songs – it’s all her. This is difficult to replicate, so I can’t say this type of music will become a trend. This is more about finding a truly unique and talented artist.
In general, there are still more male than female artists having more success industry-wide and particularly in Latin music, how can this be tackled?
The Latin world is notoriously machista, just as every culture has its challenges, one way or another. It’s not going to happen from one day to the next, but we do have more female artists in the Latin music space now – Becky G, Greeicy [Rendón], Anitta.
All of a sudden there’s a whole bunch of girls appearing, but I know it’s not enough. However, I do feel that people are aware and conscious of the imbalance and are starting to make strategic decision to create more opportunities for women in general.
“An artist like Rosalía only comes around once every 50 years”
What has your own experience been like as a female executive in the industry?
I am happy to be a woman in the industry – even if sometimes I am the only girl in the room. I try to be smart about the way I do business and it doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or a man, this is the most important thing.
I’m 100% aware that we need more positions for women. Professor Stacy Smith, founder and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, has put together a study of women across the industry as a whole, and the numbers are really astounding.
We need to inform ourselves of these imbalances and shine a light on the women who are having success in the industry and make sure they get the recognition they deserve. The conversation needs to be about empowering and educating women on how to talk about money and power, and how to handle difficult situations. We need to give women the tools they need to succeed.
What’s next for Lionfish Entertainment?
Rosalía is one of the most incredible artists I have ever encountered. It’s so exciting and beautiful what’s happening there, so I want to make sure we support her as much as possible.
Aside from that, I’m working on some film and TV projects. That’s the focus for us really in 2020 – not letting this cultural movement be just about music – I want to make Latin content across all media.
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