Streaming has made the popularity of music sung in Spanish an unavoidable fact: Clicks pile up, creating numbers so massive that even the most insular record executive can’t help but acknowledge them. These numbers then allow the Maluma’s and the Bad Bunny’s to build robust touring operations in the U.S., the biggest music market on the planet, and add further millions to their bottom lines.
But the streaming gains in Latin music are heavily concentrated among a small subset of acts working almost entirely in two spaces, reggaeton and trap. Spanish-language acts who work in other genres and still hope to establish the foundation for an international career face the same old tough slog.
For a group like Monsieur Periné (who are, despite their French name, Colombian), with only modest streaming success worldwide — their best-known single, “Bailar Contigo,” has 23 million Spotify streams — and zero U.S. airplay, touring is perhaps even more vital as a means of gaining the exposure they won’t get from algorithms. “For a band that doesn’t play reggaeton music, one of the few options is to put them in front of as many people as possible,” says Juan Paz, who manages the group.
To that end, the ensemble embark on the biggest U.S. tour of their career on June 1, with more than 20 shows in six weeks, including stops at major festivals (Bonaroo and a trip back for Austin City Limits in the fall). “There have been three or four tours [of the U.S. before], but this is the first time that we’re doing it in a serious and rigorous way, covering the East Coast and the West Coast,” Paz says. “It’s the first time we’re gonna be sleeping on a tour bus,” adds Catalina Garcia, the band’s lead singer. “We’re very excited about it.”
Thanks to streams, a reggaeton star like Ozuna can make the jump from unknown in the U.S. mainstream to arena-filling star in just two years. In contrast, Monsieur Periné have been building patiently since their debut album in 2012. “From the beginning we had the idea of taking them to as many places as possible,” Paz explains. “But it hasn’t been easy. For this band, you need an economy of scale” — taking a seven-piece group on the road in a foreign country is prohibitively expensive if you can’t line up enough dates to earn back the travel costs.
To reach a point where Monsieur Periné could fund eighty shows a year, as they will in 2019, the band tinkered relentlessly with their performance. “Getting a good live sound takes time,” Garcia says. To that end, the group “been playing together for almost four years.”
In addition, starting four years ago, the band drafted a choreographer, Jimmy Rangel, to help them hone a visceral stage presence. “He’s a dancer,” Garcia says. “Our music brings together different elements from different epochs,” and with Rangel’s counseling, “that’s what we strive to do onstage with our movements, and use all the elements we have in the group: horns, drums, a lot of happy melodies.”
In Monsieur Periné’s recordings, those elements intertwine and hurtle apart in charming, hand-played throwbacks. Their unwavering commitment to a live-band approach, even at a time when the commercial hopes for bands are plummeting, has earned Monsieur Periné fans in high places. 2015’s Caja de Música won them Best New Artist at the Latin Grammys and earned them a nomination at the Anglo Grammys as well. 2018’s Encanto Tropical was in the running in the three biggest Latin Grammy categories, Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Song of the Year. The single “Bailar Contigo” was one of the strongest Song of the Year entries, though it did not win.
Both the onstage practice and the validation from the Latin Recording Academy helped Monsieur Periné work with the United Talent Agency to expand their live footprint Stateside. “New York, L.A., Chicago, those places are easy for us [to get a show],” Paz says. But the cities in between are the tricky ones. How do you get those?”
He continues, “I’m fortunate because I have a band that the live show is amazing, and there’s a bunch of footage of them online. We put together a reel to sell the band and it’s kind of working out.” On top of that, “that type of recognition [from the Latin Grammys] are very important. When we have the conversations with UTA about how to sell the music, those drivers help a lot to get the band in places where they might not be known.”
With the gigs booked and the group’s first ever tour bus in hand, Garcia describes her mission in grand terms. “We are doing the work of resilience — it’s a big effort to keep freedom in art alive,” she says. But she’s continuously heartened by the reaction at shows in the U.S. She adds, “it’s very impressive to find that there are a lot of people who don’t understand what we’re saying but still love our music.”