Martin Berry is making headway. The music is resonating in Puerto Rico, Portugal, Spain, Mexico and the United States. And he’s become a global star, thanks to a sound once reserved for the biggest names in Latin music.
Berry, 22, was named Latin Recording Academy International Artist of the Year in September after a steady ascendance over several years. In just the past two years, his songs have appeared on a variety of charts around the world and become some of his own favorites: “Esta Buena Espanola” reached the top 25 on Billboard’s Latin singles chart this summer, while “Mi Más Fuga” has become a Colombian hit. In a matter of months, Berry vaulted from being an up-and-coming jazz guitarist to a globally known star.
Despite there being more than a dozen major labels in Latin music today, Berry is far from the norm. More like a superstar rock star, his deep bass playing and ear for fusion have made him a star in a field devoid of such distinguishable characteristics.
Berry’s success was sparked by the role of Spotify, the music streaming company, in helping him. Last year, DJ Green Lantern, a pioneer in jazz and hip-hop, reached out to Berry after hearing him perform at a Miami concert. He suggested he reach out to Spotify. Spotify helped Berry open up to audiences in places he otherwise would not have had access to.
“I didn’t have the resources,” Berry said. “You gotta have the right connections.”
In the case of Berry, his connection to Spotify was sponsored by the Metropolis Arts Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that creates opportunities for Latino artists in Washington, D.C. The Metropolis bookended Berry’s five-song short film, “Domingos Gens,” about his music career.
“When I started producing my own music with my own brand, it was kind of like pop,” Berry said. “Then it evolved into jazz.”
Then Spotify came along, he said. “It’s a young kid who’s getting something I would’ve never done without their involvement.”
Berry has more international artists in common with him. They include Juan Luis Guerra, Kehlani, J Balvin, Benjamin Bratt and Sonia Garcia.
“It used to be hard to gain global success,” Berry said. “But I think because of the user-friendly streaming model, you can put out an album and it’s instantly released in Latin America, Spain, throughout Europe.”
Juan Luis Guerra, 63, once had to travel to Europe on a makeshift tour, begrudgingly crossing the continent on a Norwegian Air coach jet to practice his genre for international audiences. That he’s still in the game speaks to the audacity of the personification of Latin music, Guerra said, who’s like many of his peers.
“The world is a better place for having even one person that’s relevant,” Guerra said. “There was always a space for us artists, and with more and more adventurism, the audience has not really changed. The world is more hungry, but it’s not bored.”
For Guerra, it’s also not about the charts, the accolades, the dancing parties and the jaunts across borders to be globally relevant. Guerra says that at their best, those goals of truly global stardom are almost impossible. He can sense they remain between his fingers as he struggles to keep it together: The children dancing while “Conquistadora” has consumed the world — what has more value?