For nearly three decades, Antonio Hernández (better known to most as Toy Selectah) has been like Latin Music’s dreadlocked, Mexican version of Rick Rubin – if you look closely, he appears in the background at a surprising number of the industry’s pioneering musical moments. His ubiquity is well-deserved. The Control Machete beatmaker turned Universal Records A&R turned world-traveling global bass DJ/producer has built a career out of tapping the sounds of the Latin underground and turning them into full-fledged movements. But his is the kind of masterminding that often takes place out of the spotlight; an alchemy of unerring instinct and production wizardry that unfolds mainly in recording studios and music label board rooms.
Take 3BallMTY, for example. Before Inténtalo – 3Ball’s single and album of the same title – was heard all over Latin American radio stations and televisions, the trio of teens were making music on overworked PC laptops in their parents’ Monterrey apartments. They posted tracks freely on MySpace and other underground file-sharing sites, which is where Toy stumbled upon the raw, electronic-cumbia hybrids. Just as he had so many times before, the industry icon had a gut instinct that these homegrown tribal guarachero sounds had a wider audience in the wings. He invited the 3Ball boys to his studio and offered to produce their debut album, and, as they say, the rest is history. In 2012, Inténtalo reached #1 on the Billboard Latin Songs chart, the group embarked on a sold out tour around Mexico, and they took home a Latin Grammy for Best New Artist. This, in a nutshell, is Toy’s gift: magnetizing the underground, turning it into the music that sells out concerts and wins Latin Grammys. It’s what he did as an A&R for Universal’s Latin-Urban imprint Machete, where he helped to spread the sounds of reggaeton across South America; and it’s what he did for regional cumbia artist Celso Piña, whose 2001 Latin Grammy-nominated cross-over hit “Cumbia Sobre el Rio” Toy produced, fusing the cumbia with reggae/hip-hop sound-scapes.
But Toy’s is a skill set that often goes unseen (except, of course, when he’s melting dance floors with his tropical bass DJ sets). Enter Heineken’s SoundLab, a unique music experience going down at this year’s Latin Grammys. The SoundLab – a custom-built recording studio – is a focal point of Heineken’s Music Labs, a three day event series held at Heineken House at Mandalay Bay during the Latin Grammys. Its concept is simple but unique: the SoundLab will put the recording process on display, allowing people to witness the collaborative, creative exchange between producer, sound engineer, and musicians that usually takes place behind closed doors. As the SoundLab’s featured in-house producer, attendees will have the chance to watch and listen as Toy spends three days doing what he does: expertly chopping and stretching loops into the beats and rhythms that are defining new Latin music. And he won’t be alone – also joining him in the studio will be renowned sound engineer Frank “El Medico” Rodriguez, and some of this year’s award nominees – including Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas, Bomba Estereo, and Hello Seahorse!.
Heineken’s SoundLab is a rare opportunity to be a fly on the wall, watching as a production heavyweight makes magic in the studio. If you’re going to be in Vegas for the Latin Grammys, it’s well worth checking out. Learn more about SoundLab HERE, and while you’re at it check out some of the other events Music Labs at Heineken House has lined up for this year’s Latin Grammys.