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Meet the Women Managing Música Mexicana’s Breakout Stars, From Xavi to Yahritza Y Su Esencia and More

The rise of música Mexicana has been one of the more unexpected movements in the music world: While it was the fastest-growing Latin subgenre of 2023, per research data company Luminate, the genre is centuries old, and rooted in traditional guitar-based melodies that many of música Mexicana’s most promising young artists — including Peso Pluma, Eslabon Armado, Xavi, Ivan Cornejo, Yahritza Y Su Esencia and Conexión Divina — likely first heard coming out of their parents’ stereos.

Except for Peso, all of those artists have something else in common, a rarity in regional Mexican music: female managers.

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The California-based quartet Eslabon Armado, whose smash duet with Peso Pluma, “Ella Baila Sola,” became the first song in the genre’s history to reach the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 (and was Variety’s Hitmakers No. 9 song of the year), is managed by their mother, Nelly. Family members stepping in as managers for their musical children is not uncommon but it is a massive development for the male-dominated genre. Few senior-level women have held influential positions on the business side — much less in non-Spanish markets.

“What [Nelly] does for us is way more than just the title of a manager but, as a manager, she has surpassed our expectations,” Eslabon’s lead vocalist, and Nelly’s eldest son, Pedro Tovar tells Variety. “We’ve been doing this together for four or five years now and she’s taken every step with caution. Plus, we have the benefit of being family, so she knows how I work. As soon as I’m done writing a song, she’s got me in the studio with musicians. She’s been crucial to our success.”

Eslabon Armado is working on new music after ending the year with multiple Latin Grammy nominations for “Ella Baila Sola,” which continues to rack up accolades, most recently winning regional Mexican song of the year at the Latin BMI Awards.

Another fast-rising artist in the genre is 19-year-old Xavi, a Mexican-American singer-songwriter signed to Interscope Records and managed by Natalia López with her husband Raczon López. Natalia is one of several women working to advance the careers of these pioneering young artists with cross-national opportunities in brand partnerships and first-time tours.

Natalia and Raczon started managing Xavi last year, working closely with Interscope’s marketing/A&R VP Manny Prado and executive VP Nir Seroussi. Together, they’ve successfully helped launch Xavi’s romantic corridos — a blend of traditional Mexican music and trap beats — to new heights.

Within the first six months of their partnership, Xavi’s listening pool on Spotify grew from 280,000 to over 30 million thanks to the success of singles “La Víctima,” “Poco a Poco” with Dareyes De La Sierra and “Modo DND” with Tony Aguirre, all of which have charted on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart. More hits followed with his November release “La Diabla” opening the year at No. 1 on Spotify’s Global 200 chart and charting at No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 in its 10th week (on the chart dated March 2).

In recent months, Xavi also finalized a deal with WME and announced his first U.S.-based tour, which has already been expanded to include additional dates due to popular demand.

“You can only put so much money into marketing and expect to see results,” Natalia tells Variety. “Xavi’s success has depended entirely on the fact that he is evolving the sound, which to me has always been impressive because of the tone of his easily distinguishable voice.”

Natalia’s praise of Xavi’s high-octave rasp is all the more notable because she started her career as a regional Mexican singer before deciding that, as a woman, her opportunities in the space were fewer and more challenging to navigate as an artist. So instead, she chose to work from the inside out, mentoring other female artists who needed support in marketing. But, some months after they wed, Raczon asked Natalia, who was working in marketing at the time, to join him in championing Xavi’s project. After some pushback (“We had literally just gotten married,” she stresses), Natalia agreed.

Pictured above (L-R): WME Agent Richard Vega, Xavi, WME Agent Rob Markus, Natalia López and Raczon López. Photo credit: WME Agent Richard Lom.

“We’re at a point now where we have to get the best team together to tell his story, his way,” she says.

Xavi’s story prominently involves a life-threatening car accident he endured in 2021 — just a few months after Seroussi had signed him to Interscope — when he was just 16 years old. The accident left him with facial injuries that drastically altered his momentum, leaving him in a PTSD-induced funk for months. Songwriting and time healed the wounds and now, “I don’t like asking him so much about his past,” Natalia says. “To me, his experiences and passions are reflected in who he is as an artist. I’m a big believer that whatever happens, happens for a reason. It’s clear he connects with that same [notion], too.”

But the accident, paired with Xavi’s quick-paced ascent on the charts, has made Natalia overtly cautious of her managerial approach. “He’s very young and this is all happening fast,” she says before taking a deep breath. “We feel protective over him but we’re lucky that he’s a team player — even if he doesn’t agree with everything at first.”

Similar instincts resonate for manager Adriana Martinez, the older sister of her clients, Latin Grammy-nominated trio Yahritza Y Su Esencia, fronted by 17-year-old singer-songwriter Yahritza with her brothers Jairo and Armando Martinez.

“I sort of fell into the job,” Martinez tells Variety. “It was like a wrecking ball knocked us into a completely different planet. I tried everything and am still doing whatever possible to make sure that I protect them. And there were many times I had to learn as I went.”

Before managing the Washington-based outfit full-time, Martinez had earned a degree in psychology. She grew up working with her family, picking fruit in an agricultural suburb, and was well into her marriage when she was tasked with overseeing the band’s first business trip to Los Angeles. “After that first trip, I remember they said something like ‘Can’t you come with us – all the time? I think you consider that like a manager?’ I mean that’s how clueless we were.’”

With a copy of Donald S. Passman’s “All You Need to Know About the Music Business,” dubbed the “industry bible,” in her suitcase, Martinez landed in California, where the band would spend the majority of their time after indie labels like Ramon Ruiz’s Lumbre Music approached them to sign a label deal. The offer came after Yahritza Y Su Esencia had posted a viral TikTok cover of their peer Ivan Cornejo’s Hot 100 hit “Esta Dañada.” Cornejo, like Xavi, is signed to Interscope and WME, and, like Yahritza, is managed by his older sister Pamela Cornejo, who advised the 19-year-old through his label deal. Martinez also negotiated for her siblings through the group’s signing with Sony Music, in partnership with Columbia Records, Sony Music Latin and Lumbre Music in 2022.

“I remember speaking with Pam when Ivan was [leveraging] deals, being pulled in many different directions by huge names with huge proposals. I was like, ‘First thing’s first, here’s the number for my lawyer,'” Martinez says. That lawyer was Marjorie Garcia, a prominent entertainment attorney with a long history representing global Latin acts from Juanes, J Balvin, and Los Tigres del Norte to indie all-stars including the Marias, Carla Morrison and Snow Tha Product. Garcia began working with Yahritza Y Su Esencia the same year they signed their Columbia deal.

Garcia adds, “These artists are coming from an indie space, where the cost of doing business is low — since these artists are almost always working out of home studios — then, they are offered these deals that are overwhelmingly complicated and sometimes come with a big price tag but at what cost? Negotiating the details, so that the artist keeps control as much of their rights, like publishing, is crucial, not only to the success of the artist and their overall long-term financial well-being, but to this genre’s continued growth in the industry.”

Martinez hails Garcia as a reliable mentor throughout the biggest obstacles of her life and career. She was someone to lean on when Armando, who plays guitar for the band, left for Mexico City to complete his travel visa authorization since he wasn’t allowed to travel internationally as an undocumented person.

Nearly half a year after his departure, his siblings flew to join him and participated in interviews with the Mexican press. During a junket-style chat, the siblings voiced a distaste for some of the cuisine they had tried and joked about the city’s loud and constant traffic. What followed was an unprecedented rush of death threats from Mexican people who felt the group was too “white-washed” to be relatable.

“This is just part of what the duality of our culture is,” says Martinez. “On the other side, it was a lesson that we had to learn because then, the decision became whether or not I would let them go through with playing Mexico’s Independence Day event in the city. The interview was still fresh on everyone’s mind and so, with the threats, there was a lot to consider and it was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.”

The band issued an apology and did perform at the Independence Day event where they were met with an angry crowd that expressed its frustration with audible “boos.” Still, Martinez says, “I would have rather them show face than for them to have to swallow this guilt for the rest of their lives. We know they meant no harm by it and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.”

Similar roadblocks plagued manager Mariam Begazo, who works with the Sony Latin-signed trio of Conexión Divina, an all-female band comprised of Liz Trujillo, Sandra Calixto and Daniela Santiago. Begazo shares the indie record label and management firm Palm Music with her husband, Erick Begazo, who formerly helped manage Conexión.

With lead vocalist Trujillo identifying as gay, the band’s growing presence in mainstream culture felt groundbreaking and was a sign of an exciting evolution but “it has cost them to get to this point,” Begazo says. “The more I started traveling with them, and looking at what these deals were looking like, I realized that we had the opportunity to step up and make a real difference. This is a tough industry and what a lot of young artists are doing is new but no where there’s no risk there’s no gain.”

After securing a slot at Coachella, and notching their first Latin Grammy nomination for best new artist at the 2023 awards, the band experienced its first curveball when former member Ashlee Valenzuela announced her departure from the group. Santiago joined the group soon after.

“We didn’t see it coming and we scrambled, of course, to ensure the band felt supported but we didn’t know what would happen,” says Begazo. “But that’s the thing about these relationships. I trusted they knew what works for them and so far, things have been great and we’re working to make them even bigger and better.”

The pair are actively expanding their management roster, looking to add more women to their lineup — primarily made up of música Mexicana acts — in the coming months. In the wider scope of the genre, new female acts from Estevie, signed to Ricky Reed’s Nice Life, to Los CT (an Interscope joint venture spearheaded by Natanael Cano) signee Delilah Cabrera, are indications that the best is yet to come.

“The difficulty for women breaking into this genre is an obstacle and an opportunity,” suggests Begazo. “We’re [working] rooms that, for women, have been completely uncharted. The industry, and really this world is so big, that there’s room for everyone. We are in these spaces for a reason.”

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