Rodri J. Rodriguez – Entertainment An Irdor Inc. Company
The Poster Girls of America’s new entrepreneur is Latinas in all sizes, colors and launching varied businesses. From marketing and ad agencies to service related industries, we are booming and a hot commodity to America and beyond.
Gone are the days when it was impossible to get a start up business loan. In fact one of the reasons I joined 25 others in becoming founding shareholders of ProAmerica Bank a few years ago, was the aggressive plan of offering loans to Latino and Latina entrepreneurs for start up or growing small businesses and franchising. We raised $45,000,000 and launched Promerica Bank, which just enjoyed its highest earning quarter and moved to larger banking space last month.
I saw my involvement in ProAmerica as a responsibility since I was not able to get a business loan when I began my business in 1976. This rejection obviously didn’t deter me. I used $400 from my savings, $300 borrowed from my parents and a hell of a marketing plan matched with a self-taught course in Creative Accounting 101.
Worldwide there is a staggering absence of women in the entertainment industry. However, women have learned the true networking process and have begun to group funds and are establishing new venues for entertainment at all levels. Thanks to social media we are connecting globally and the process has begun. The universe is beginning to experience a renaissance of spiritually grounded women that are choosing to work exclusively with people that are free of negative ego, drama, unethical behavior, discrimination and are creating magnificence and not from a position of power but from the position of strength. Power denotes control; strength validates wise choices…and so here we are.
Repeatedly throughout my career I have been asked if being a Latina has hindered or helped my career and my response is unwavering at its core. My rich Cuban heritage hand-mixed with the Mexican heritage I have chosen to embrace fill me and carry me wherever I may be. When I first look in the mirror in the morning I smile and see a 5’2 woman smiling back and wondering why I again left the toothpaste in the shower and this is how it’s always been with me. I just see me and still understand that some see the Latina, while others see a full bodied Latina, and a handful see a grounded spiritual woman vested fully in living what once was a painful experience of mere survival. Everything I am perceived as, all that I am and all that I touch is impregnated with generations of a people that live and love passionately…never a hindrance and always a solid foundation from where I have built and rebuilt and continue redesigning.
I had just celebrated my 7th birthday when I traveled to the US as part of Operation Pedro Pan, an exodus of 14,000 children from Cuba. We landed in Miami, and were placed in refugee camps in Florida City, Florida. Those of us whose parents were not able to leave Cuba were eventually placed in foster homes, thus I lived my second 7 years in Albuquerque, New Mexico until my Mom and Dad were allowed to leave and moved to my now home of Los Angeles.
I believe I was born a performer but my immigrant father was quite strict and would not allow that I be involved in ‘Hollywood.’ Humorous is that for several summers my parents thought I was studying intensive Spanish, though in actuality, I was a front row student of Master Acting Coach, Stella Adler. All I learned from Stella has served me well and I use it fervently on the stage of life daily. This entails the magical use of everything before me to create and recreate.
The genesis of my career was at Latin International Records. The crib of the Latin record industry was in diapers and located in a one mile radius near downtown Los Angeles. LIR had the US license for EMI so while we distributed EMI product, the company was also producing local talent under the direction of Pepe Garcia Jr. The company produced an annual awards show ‘El Disco the Oro’ the first of its kind. The even awarded the label’s top sellers and new artists. I was a sponge learning all I could about lighting, audio, staging and direction.
During my stint at LIR, many Latin artists complained vehemently of the absence of a Grammy Latin category but the obvious was that none of them belonged to NARAS, and so the Latin membership at NARAS was at zero. Thus the genesis of a feverish campaign to get our peers in Mexico, Spain and Latin America to join. This meant they had to provide one of the many creative recording services and do it in the U.S. I accepted one of the first Grammy Awards in that, then new category for Mongo Santamaria. All I remember was that I couldn’t quite afford a fancy dress so my mom made me a breathtaking violet silk dress…size 4. Actually, being a fellow Cuban, I honed in on kudos to those that worldwide had embraced Maestro Santamaria’s music without missing the opportunity as an activist to affirm that, while finally a Latin category was in place, one was insufficient for the vast Latin music genres that existed and would quickly descend on America. Sadly, the recent NARAS decision to delete many categories this year includes key Latin genres.
A series of events occurred which led me to believe that, as a producer, I would have greater longevity and financial stability – a belief that my parents loved since it kept me off ‘casting couches’. Ironically, I began producing concerts on a dare. A Latino promoter attempted to quash my creative criticism of his distasteful artist presentations and he publicly dared me to produce my own shows. At the time, the Latin concert scene was more like a variety show of ten to fifteen artists singing one or two songs into 2nd rate mics with one spot light and a few genie trees here and there…ADM! So I took the dare and Voila, I’ve been producing live concerts since then with Julio Iglesias’ first US concert my major entre into this biz.
Although my first few years were in the Latin concert industry producing the then-music-giants Raphael, Julio Iglesias, Roberto Carlos, Camilo Sesto and countless others, my restlessness led me to take American artists to Mexico, South America, and a few to Israel. Some include Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Eric Clapton, Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke, Natalie Cole, Bryan Adams, Engelbert. Then, in 1990, I saw a niche in Los Angeles that was not being filled and my shiny ticket to stay off a plane for a while. I was burned out from the road, touring Mexico and South America for fifteen years, almost nine months out of the year and needed to reinvent what I was doing and how I was doing it. Herein a perfect example of reinventing your business.
Since its inception in 1990at the Hollywood Bowl, MARIACHI USA has belonged to the people, a cross pollination of folks that love Mariachi music regardless of their heritage. On June 23rd we turn 23 years young celebrating family, pride and tradition. We recently signed with an international agent, Lassu Inc to take the show on the road to Europe, Asia, South America and Australia. I have longed to rock France and Spain and eventually I‘d like to do my hometown of Havana as well.
The success of MUSA is a love story between the largest population of Mexicans living outside of Mexico and the largest population of Mariachi musicians living outside of Mexico…yes, ladies and gentlemen this phenom happens right here in Los Angeles California!
Latinos indeed the fastest growing demographic in the USA – with the buying power of over a trillion dollars and Latinas are our #1 ticket purchaser, proving that they control the purse strings. Our Mariachi audience skews younger each year which goes to the core of family tradition and unwavering embrace of this music genre. Although we currently only get 3.5 million hits annually on our website www.mariachiusa.com and have almost 14,000 Facebook fans, they are very active and know how to rock their music and the allocation of spendable dollars. Last month we posted a poll and out of our then fan base of 13,000, 6,000 participated which shows how passionately engaging our fans are and we love them!
One of the most amazing highlights of MARIACHI USA is the traditional finale that includes our entire ensemble of over 100 and our audience of 17,000 singing El Rey and Volver Volver then culminating with a five minute fireworks show timed perfectly to Viva Mexico and La Negra. Our tagline says it all…”Nothing Like it in the World”. This rocks the Bowl time and time again! Until you’ve performed on that stage that holds the creative energy of music giants and virtuosos you just don’t get it. However the next closest is being the audience.
In 2011, we partnered with AEG to present our MARIACHI USA Christmas show at the Nokia Theatre LA Live, this year on December 2nd.
Out of MARIACHI USA was born an organization that is near and dear to the hearts of many musicians and parents alike, the MARIACHI USA Foundation which since 1991 has been providing grants for after-school-based programs and, sadly, the shortage of philanthropic funds has affected our efficiency in the last two years. The annual Mariachi Music Camp for our students who do not have access to curriculum based Mariachi music programs is a must if we are to continue growing professional musicians to continue the legacy. www.mariachiusa.org
I was at a social media conference in Miami very recently and the buzz was all about reaching the largest number of people in the least amount of time. Although the latest technology is invigorating in how we engage with our fans I strongly feel we are all in a science laboratory of sorts, jumping from Petri dish to Petri dish where the growth is endless and timeless. Of concern is what is being triggered for too many by quick time media and social media. All this will indeed be a historical reflection of our society at this time. Lack of focus, lack of presence, deterioration of personal family communication, loss of verbal communication skills, destruction of thought articulation, patience management and I haven’t even touched upon some of the deeper psychological side effects (which K Jung and Nietzsche would be enthralled with). This brings to mind a comment from Nietzsche on the subject of science, “All sciences are now under the obligation to prepare the ground for the future task of the philosopher, which is to solve the problem of value, to determine the true hierarchy of values.”
I must interject here that all this instant communication carries great responsibility…a voice with many volumes. People that could not previously be heard now have the ability to do so. We all have a story to tell, we all wish to be heard…let’s do it with ethics, truths and without judgment. Never before have we had this amazing opportunity to be counted so make it count.
I am often asked how I would like to be remembered and what my legacy will be. I am a mere guardian of legacy and I don’t need the world to necessarily remember me. I want this world to feel me now, in the present, while I can hear their laughter and applause for the work we do, I live for their smiles and finally, the immense privilege of feeling them feel.
For three years in the lat 90’s I was the only Latina on English language talk radio. For three hours a week, every Sunday I hit the airwaves of KFIam LA’s #1 English language talk radio station. I was your ‘best friend’ Rodri, dishing out advice on life based on my life experience, often with irreverence, always with humor and compassion, defending the underdog and enjoying hate mail postcards…can you believe people would actually send me hate mail from their vacations? Now that’s what I call impactful!
I love and enjoy engaging in challenging dialogue, especially with people that are ‘in search of.’ While I don’t profess to have the answers, without judgment I sure have lots of entertaining suggestions that, at the very least, will keep you thinking, intrigued and for sure laughing…an emotion that easily earns the top position in our daily To Do List.