Emilio Estefan Jr. on SA, Chris Perez, and the 'People en Espanol' Festival

Wanna bitch about the second annual People en Español Festival in San Antonio? Here's some ammunition: Emilio Estefan Jr. (Miami Sound Machine, Shakira, Marc Anthony, J. Lo, and tons of other credits) will be the event's artistic producer of the August 31 and September 1 festival at the Alamodome.
Not that you need any, but if you're looking for more arguments to dismiss People en Español's second try at the Alamodome (after a disappointing first year), choose from the following:

1. A Cuban American in San Antonio??!! They'll turn Saytown into Miami!!

2. The guy's known as the ultimate commercial Latin producer! What we need is someone who understands the sophistication of Mexican American music and San Antonio's demographics!

3. The guy's past his prime!

Are you done? OK, guess what — I think having Estefan direct the People en Español Festival is a great idea. And here's why.

Subjective reasons:

a. I like the Estefans. As someone who grew up under a right-wing military dictatorship, I was always horrified whenever I saw a Cuban holding "VIVA REAGAN" signs. And the Estefans, I thought, were the symbol of that Cuban-American lack of sensitivity: the cubanos in Miami were all for "freedom," but the torture and disappearance of people at the hands of U.S.-backed military governments in Latin America wasn't something they gave a hamster's ass about. Yet, when Gloria Estefan became my first major interview for the Los Angeles Times in 1993 (she was promoting her superb Mi Tierra album), I discovered an intelligent, honest woman with her own mind. We spoke about the time she defended merengue superstar Juan Luis Guerra from inaccurate "¡comunista!" accusations ("One owes respect to any human being, no matter what his ideas are," she said), and years later Cuban rocker (and Cuba-based) Carlos Varela told me about the amazing day she met Gloria at the Madrid airport. ("We were separated by glass, but we were able to communicate as two Cubans," he told me. "There was no difference between us. She was very classy.")

b. Emilio can dig rock 'n' roll. At one of the Latin Grammy celebrations in the early 2000s, once he knew of my interest in Latin rock, he told me, "I have two things I'm working on … I think you'll like them." Hours later, he came with two CDs he was producing for Vallejo and Del Castillo. I dug Vallejo better, but that was irrelevant: what I was impressed with was the fact that he was open to other things besides the deliberate commercial, crisp Miami Sound. And now he's producing what will arguably be the biggest album by Chris Pérez, Selena's widower. "I've been working with Chris for six months," Estefan told the Current (in Spanish) on the phone from the SA airport in late January. "I always look for talent, wherever it may be. Chris is a great person, a talent I respect, and I love him immensely as a person and as a musician. He liked what I wrote for him and I liked what he had been working on. When we finish the album, we'll either release it through a major label or independently."

Of course, there are objective reasons for applauding People's move on Estefan:

a. Emilio knows how to put on a damn good show. He worked on three Olympic Games, three Super Bowls, 42 White House events, and the list continues. He turned Miami Sound Machine from a band of friends playing at weddings to a mainstream money maker, at a time when anything Latin was relegated to the Latin market, all the while almost single-handedly creating a sound that was key in the "Latin boom" of the '90s.

b. This is do-or-die for People en Español. After what happened in 2012 (great things onstage, too many empty seats in front of it), the magazine could've forgotten about the whole thing. Maybe San Anto wasn't such a great idea in the first place. Instead, the publication changed gears and this year they'll be making it bigger and "better." We'll see. But so far, securing Estefan's services is another display of power and commitment to our city by the magazine.

It won't be hip and it won't be cool — but the second People en Español Festival should be good and huge — at least onstage.

What should we expect this year?
It's going to be a spectacular stage. We're bringing the light person who worked at the Olympics and the MTV Awards. And the fact that it's in San Antonio is very significant, because it was in SA that the first Spanish-language radio, TV station, and newspaper in the U.S. were born. It's going to be a very beautiful event and people will have a lot of fun.

I hope so. Last year's success took place more on stage than in the stands…
That was expected. When you organize a festival, you never know what's going to happen. I heard not too many people showed up, but I also know this year [People En Español] wants to add more things and make everything bigger. … I remember the first time we did the Calle 8 festival [in Miami] only 30,000 showed up, and now we have more than a million people. It's the biggest festival in the U.S.

Any confirmed artists yet?
The artists are being chosen by People [En Español], I only do the production. Of course, I'll have my input, but they choose the artists. The idea is to have variety and for people to enjoy. And we want to use local talent too.

Really? On stage? Last year, the local talent was only found at the free events at the Convention Center…
Yes, but they used mariachi… [Luis Miguel was backed by Mariachi Sol de México]

The Mariachi came from LA…
Look, I come to help…

Yes, but you're well aware some people will have reservations, as they did at the launch of the Latin Grammy in 2000.
I fought for 14 years in order to give birth to the Latin Grammy, and now you see the benefits in all of our countries. We need to criticize less, especially when the criticism is targeted to people who work. Those who criticize are always people who don't do anything. I'm not going to apologize for my work. I work to lift my race and my music. Those who like it, like it. Those who don't, don't, and I don't care. All I can tell you is that [the People En Español Festival] will continue growing and it will be seen by a lot of people, not only from San Antonio. You'll see.

Complete Emilio Estefan Q & A

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