Rodri Rodriguez: Vivacious Visionary, Queen of the Mariachis
A gifted performer, motivational speaker, a pioneering business executive and renaissance woman
Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez, Contributing Editor
Rodri Rodriguez is President and CEO of Rodri Entertainment Inc., an international entertainment production company founded in 1976. Rodriguez first made her presence felt in the entertainment arena in 1975 when she played a key role in the decision to have the Latin category added to the Grammy Awards.
Published on LatinoLA: January 23, 2012
She is a gifted performer, motivational speaker, a pioneering business executive, and a renaissance woman who is heralded as one of the most significant and influential Latinas in Hollywood, as well as in the music industry around the world.
One of the company's events is the MARIACHI USA Festival, heralded as the world's preeminent mariachi festival. This coming year will celebrate twenty years of sold out success at the Hollywood Bowl. A two hour television special of the Festival aired on prime time pay-per-view and PBS nationally and consequently received the Image Award for best Variety Music Special.
A newly produced music review is the 90-minute MARIACHI USA?ę Fiesta, created to tour performing arts centers, casinos and fairs. The Fiesta has played to sold out audiences for the last four years at the Los Angeles County Fair, the largest fair of its kind in the US. Rodriguez is in the process of taking the production around the world with, no doubt, ever greater success.
A visionary to the core, Rodriguez is one in a group of 27 successful entrepreneurs who, in 2006, became founding shareholders of the first Latino-owned bank in California in 35 years. With headquarters at 888 South Figueroa in downtown Los Angeles, PROMERICA Bank caters to the burgeoning Latino entrepreneurship in the number one Latino market in the nation.
LatinoLA.com Contributing Editor Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez had the pleasure of speaking to Rodri all last week about her life and times.
Al Carlos (AC): You founded Rodri Entertainment Inc. in 1976. Why did you decide to start a production company and what was your original vision for your corporate efforts?
Rodri Rodriguez (RR): Actually I was born a performer but my father was a bit strict and would not allow that I be involved in 'Hollywood.' For several summers I studied intensive Spanish, or so my parents thought. Truthfully, all the while I was studying intently and practicing the magical art of using everything before me on stage as taught by Master Stella Adler. All I learned has served me well and I use it fervently on the stage of life daily.
Along the way, a series of events occurred which led me to believe that, as a producer, I would have greater longevity and financial stability - a belief that my parents loved! I began producing concerts on a dare‘«™yep, a dare! A Latino promoter attempted to quash my creative criticism of his distasteful artist presentations and he publicly dared me to produce my own shows. In a pea shell, the Latin concert scene was, at the time, more like a variety show of ten to fifteen artists singing one or two songs into second rate mics with one spot light and a few genie trees here and there‘«™?ŪDios mio! So I took the dare and Voila!
AC: Have you re-imagined your corporation since the recession?
RR: The first step to reimagining was allocating some of the imagination to practical common sense like downsizing, adjusting production budgets without sacrificing production quality of our show or raising ticket prices during this time.
AC: In 1975, you played a key role in the decision to have a 'Latin' category in the Grammys. What did you do to inspire that ideological debate?
RR: At the time I was working at Latin International Records. The crib of the Latin record industry was in diapers and located in a one mile radius near downtown Los Angeles. LIR had the U.S. license for EMI, so while we distributed EMI product, the company was also producing local talent under the direction of Pepe Garcia Jr. Many Latin artists complained vehemently of the absence of a Latin category but the obvious was that none of them belonged to NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences), thus the Latin membership at NARAS was at zero. And thus the genesis of a feverish campaign to get our peers in Mexico and Latin America to join. This meant they had to provide one of the many creative recording services and do it in the U.S. If you want the long version with all the juicy gossip, you'll have to wait for my book!
AC: How did it feel when you accepted one of the first Grammy Awards in that new category for Mongo Santamaria? Do you remember what you said?
RR: Really? That was 37 years ago and all I remember was a very long walk from the 15th row to the stage at the Shrine Auditorium. I also remember I couldn't quite afford a fancy dress so my mom made me a breathtaking violet silk dress‘«™size 4. Actually, being a fellow Cuban, I honed in on kudos to those that worldwide had embraced Maestro Santamaria's music without missing the opportunity as an activist to affirm that, while finally a Latin category was in place, one was insufficient for the vast Latin music genres that existed and would quickly descend on America. The rest is history, some not so colorful.
Clearly, anyone that has any degree of creative talent knows at core level that awards do not define one's life and certainly not our talent. It's fabulous for the ego and throws a meaty bone at Narcissus but it certainly doesn't do anything to nourish the continued creative process. A simplistic break down...NARAS‘«™a core of musicians' peers that do the voting, then the power marketing machine delivers a primetime show that delivers the message to the masses to buy the CD. At the end of the day, it's more of a business now than it's ever been.
AC: How do you feel about the recent elimination of some Latin categories?
RR: As for the elimination of categories, elimination denotes exclusion which is never a good thing for our society -- especially entering the energy shift that has begun in our time. If ever the words 'It's just business' resonates loudly, it is here. The bright side to this is that for enlightened folks, awards have lost meaning and greater rewards have taken their place. Fortunately, those artists that were seldom heard or seen now have their own presence on the World Wide Web. Countless talent is no longer at the mercy of record companies to sign the now defunct multimillion dollar deals. For many, selling 20,000 CD's a year online and touring in their state is just fine because they take home the lion's share and love the integrity that accompanies the process.
AC: Your company is famous for the MARIACHI USA Festival which, for over 22 years, has sold out the Hollywood Bowl and is esteemed worldwide. Was this your idea?
RR: Yes it was my idea and there were plenty of naysayers around. I was also burned out from the road, touring Mexico and South America for fifteen years, almost nine months out of the year and needed to reinvent what I was doing and how I was doing it - thus the genesis of MUSA.
AC: Tell us about some of the highest highs and the lowest lows of this event?
RR: Every year since 1990 has been a high because of our audience, who never fail to show up and applaud even that which they may not fully embrace. Like Mariachi Sol de Mexico de Jose Hernandez performing "New York, New York" (it became a crowd pleaser) or Campanas de America playing "I Love You Baby" (which is now a traditional sing along with moi singing the lead) - it rocks the Bowl time and time again! Performing the first year that the new Hollywood Bowl stage was completed was amazing. Until you've performed on that stage that holds the creative energy of music giants and virtuosos you just don't get it. However the next closest is being in the audience.
I have experienced two personal lows. In 2002, going onstage for the first time without the physical presence of my mother. And then I experienced the same situation with my father in 2011.
AC: Tell us about the pay-per-view TV special. How did that come about?
RR: I produced a TV product MARIACHI USA 'LIVE FROM THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL' to document this phenom. It was indeed a labor of pride and passion and, in leading with emotion, lost sight of some critical biz facts. The company that broadcast the pay-per-view botched the airing and the marketing thereof. Viewers that had not paid for it received it for free and those that did pay for it were not charged. I personally lost over $125K and earned precious experience with pay-per-view, music clearance and unethical people.
AC: Why did you choose to center your production efforts on Latin music when mainstream Pop and Rock could be more lucrative?
RR: My first few years were in the Latin concert industry producing the then-music-giants Raphael, Julio Iglesias, Roberto Carlos, Camilo Sesto and countless others. Then, restless as usual, I switched to taking American artists to Mexico, South America, and a few to Israel. Some include Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Eric Clapton, Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke, Natalie Cole, Bryan Adams, Engelbert and on and on. Then, in 1990, I saw a niche in Los Angeles that was not being filled and my shiny ticket to stay off a plane for a while, thus the genesis of MARIACHI USA.
AC: The music business is male dominated. Do you think it is more difficult for a woman to be a producer?
RR: Is this a trick question? The mere lack of our numbers answers this. Nope, not many of us around, however, women have learned the true networking process and have begun to group funds and are establishing new venues for entertainment at all levels. Thanks to social media we are connecting globally and the process has begun. The universe is beginning to experience a renaissance of spiritually grounded women that are choosing to work exclusively with people that are free of negative ego, drama, unethical behavior, discrimination and from a position of power. Power denotes control; strength validates wise choices‘«™so here we are.
AC: Has being a Latina helped or hindered your career?
RR: When I first look in the mirror in the morning I smile and see a 5'2" woman smiling back and wondering why I again left the toothpaste in the shower and this is how it's always been with me. I just see me and still understand that some see the Latina, while others see a full-bodied Latina, and a handful see a grounded spiritual woman vested fully in living what once was a painful experience of mere survival. Everything I am perceived as, all that I am and all that I touch, is impregnated with generations of a people that live and love passionately‘«™never a hindrance and always a solid foundation from where I have built and rebuilt and continue redesigning.
AC: Back in the day, you did radio for three years. What type of a show did you do and what can you tell us about that life experience?
RR: For three years I was the only Latina on English language talk radio. For three hours a week, every Sunday I hit the airwaves of KFI-AM LA's #1 English language talk radio station. I was your 'best friend' Rodri, dishing out advice on life based on my life experience, often with irreverence, always with humor and compassion, defending the underdog and enjoying hate mail postcards‘«™can you believe people would actually send me hate mail from their vacations? Now that's what I call impactful‘«™lol!
AC: Would you ever do it again?
RR: Yes, in fact it's on my short "To Do" list. I love engaging in challenging dialogue, especially with people that are 'in search of.' Hey, I don't profess to have the answers, nor do I believe in preaching, but I sure have lots of entertaining suggestions that, at the very least, will keep you thinking, intrigued and for sure laughing‘«™an emotion that is missing in our daily diets. STOP right now and laugh for 30 seconds‘«™I challenge you to try it and get louder after 15 seconds.
AC: If you could, what would you change?
RR: I was consistently pressured to be brief with each caller‘«™really? Ask a Latina to be brief? And a bit mean. Neither one is my forte so I'm deep in thought as to what this project will sound like‘«™gee thanks for up starting the thought process here!
AC: You are often called on as a 'Keynote' and 'Motivational' speaker. What do you tell people, especially young people, to motivate them to succeed?
RR: I used to share business stories and challenges ... yada yada. Since last year, my focus has shifted to the current needs of our society, which focuses more on being present, centered and self-caring -- especially for women who have been busy dedicating their lives to caretaking the world.
AC: You have won many awards. In 2004, you received the Entertainment Award by Hispanic Magazine, an award previously given to Anthony Quinn and Gloria Estefan. How does it feel to be considered one of their peers?
RR: Each of us chooses a career within which to use the gifts we are given. I respect and admire, but do not idolize. Anthony's intensity for living is reflected in his work as a performing and visual artist and Gloria's passionate connection with our native country, Cuba, is ever present in her work. To a great degree, my work is driven by the immeasurable passion of the community I serve, the community I live in; thus we are all servants of our universe and I stand beside them proudly.
I profoundly share every award I have received with each person that has shown up to every concert I have produced and groups I have addressed. I graciously thank the organizations that have chosen me as a recipient and applaud their efforts for the amazing work they offer to our community.
AC: I've been told that you are now a principal in the banking business. Is this true?
RR: Well, I just showed up to a meeting looking forward to margaritas on ice with salted rim and heard the magic words, "We have the opportunity to empower small business owners, primarily Latina-owned," followed by, "We need to raise $15,000,000." We raised $45,000,000 and launched Promerica Bank, which just enjoyed its highest earning quarter and moved to larger banking space this month.
I saw my involvement in Promerica as a responsibility since I was not able to get a business loan when I began my business in 1976. This rejection obviously didn't deter me. I used $400 from my savings, $300 borrowed from my parents and a hell of a marketing plan matched with a self-taught course in Creative Accounting 101.
AC: How do you feel about 'new media' and especially 'social media?' How has the Internet and smart phone technology effected the way you do business?
RR: Totally jazzed and absolutely, it has dramatically changed communication with our fans. It is immediate and constant. It has also altered the marketing in acquiring new fans.
In digressing a bit, our sponsors are able to enjoy greater ROI with our Social Media Campaign. MP Urban Marketing in Los Angeles launched our first Social Media Campaign several years back and now it's the norm for us.
Sponsors pay us top dollars to engage our fans - Latinos, the fastest growing demographic in the USA - with the buying power of over a trillion dollars. By the way, Latinas are our #1 ticket purchaser, proving that they control the purse strings. Our Mariachi audience skews younger each year which goes to the core of family tradition and unwavering embrace of this music genre. Although we currently only get 2.5 million hits annually on our website www.mariachiusa.com and have almost 10,000 Facebook fans, they are very active and know how to rock their music and the allocation of spendable dollars.
We are all in a science laboratory of sorts, jumping from Petri dish to Petri dish where the growth is endless and timeless. A bit troubling is what is being triggered for too many by QuickTime media and social media. It will indeed be a historical reflection of our society at this time. Lack of focus, lack of presence, deterioration of personal family communication, loss of verbal communication skills, destruction of thought articulation, patience management and I haven't even touched upon some of the deeper psychological side effects (which K. Jung and Nietzsche would be enthralled with). This brings to mind a comment from Nietzsche on the subject of science, "All sciences are now under the obligation to prepare the ground for the future task of the philosopher, which is to solve the problem of value, to determine the true hierarchy of values."
AC: What are some of the projects you are working on right now?
RR: On June 23rd we celebrate 23 years at the Hollywood Bow,l so it's time for a bit of R&R: Rebranding and Refreshing - and I'm getting swept into the mix as well. That means a new look for our website, more sassiness, ay! ay! ay! is that possible? Also this week we are signing with an international agent to take the show on the road to Europe, Asia, South America and Australia. I have longed to rock France and Spain‘«™it's a major wish for this year! And eventually I'd like to do my hometown of Havana as well.
I produced a CD, 'MARIACHI USA Live from the Hollywood Bowl' with 29 of the most traditional Mariachi tunes and am launching it worldwide thru our social media tools. I have great faith that the world audience will respond and love it as much as those that already own it. Currently available on www.mariachiusa.com.
I have recently begun to pen articles that, for now, are being published at www.mujersisimas.com under 'English' which is triggering interest in upcoming international speaking tours. My autobiography has loudly claimed space to the front burner and a reality show is nipping at my toes. Then there's my garden shouting for the planting of new bulbs this Spring.
AC: What is the most important thing right now?
RR: Of critical importance is raising funds for the Mariachi USA Foundation to energize the annual Mariachi Music Camp for our students who do not have access to curriculum-based Mariachi music programs. The Foundation has been providing grants for the last twenty years for after-school-based programs and, sadly, the shortage of philanthropic funds has affected our efficiency in the last two years.
AC: You have accomplished so much. Are there still things on your bucket list you would like to do?
RR: To start off, I need a new bucket‘«™mine has been kicked around so much it's pretty dinged up -- like my armor, armor that although transparent and weightless, I wear proudly. By going down the rabbit hole recently (and on more than one occasion) I have learned to hold courage close and, much like the lion in OZ, realized I have always been courageous. However, I simply did not take the time to own it and, more powerfully, to feel it.
I have longed to record a jazz CD and now that I own some pretty darn awesome courage, I might just find someone out there to assist in this reality dream. And so, when I complete this, I will have come full circle to be the woman I was born to be. Hey, I already perform at the Hollywood Bowl‘«™what's a little switch up in music genre?
AC: How would you like this world to remember you? What would you like your legacy to be?
RR: I am a mere guardian of legacy and, frankly, I don't need the world to remember me. I want this world to feel me now, in the present, while I can hear their applause -- experience the performance of gifted artists -- live their smiles and finally, the immense privilege of feeling them feel.
Rodri is represented by Lassu Inc.
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Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez, Contributing Editor:
Edited by Susan Aceves
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