TAMMERLIN DRUMMOND MiamiIt makes you tired just watching Emilio Estefan pace the hallways at his Miami-based Crescent Moon Studios. He pops into a sound room where engineers are mixing the tracks for a ballad sung by Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, one of two songs Estefan produced for Lopez's upcoming album On the 6. It sounds great, he says, flashing his trademark broad smile. This is going to be really big. I'm telling you.
Nowadays, when Estefan makes that kind of prediction, industry moguls listen. A former drummer and the husband of pop diva Gloria Estefan, he has emerged as the godfather of Latin pop. Estefan produced four songs on Ricky Martin's new album. He has also mentored and produced Jon Secada and Colombian superstar Shakira, whose first English-language album is scheduled to be released early next year. Some have dubbed Estefan the (Motown Records king) Berry Gordy of Latin music, a comparison he does not discourage. I think what happened with R. and B. at Motown is what's happening with Latin music now, he says. It's like a sleeping giant waking up all over the world.
Estefan, 45, was the first to envision the fusion of Latin and disco music with English lyrics--or, as he likes to call it, a cross between rice, beans and hamburger--that came to be known as the Miami Sound. Undeterred by industry executives who said, Dump the timbales or It will never sell, the Cuban immigrant put together a local band called the Miami Sound Machine in the early '80s. The lead singer was his then girlfriend Gloria. The group's 1985 smash hit Conga transformed Gloria Estefan into the first Latin female crossover superstar.
While Gloria went on to sell 70 million albums worldwide, Emilio began exploring songwriting and producing. In 1995 he formed the Crescent Moon label and started signing acts such as Cuban bassist Cachao, known as the Father of Mambo, whom major labels had ignored. A string of Grammy nominations eventually followed; so did non-Latino artists like Madonna and Will Smith, seeking to add some tropical flavor to their songs. Emilio's ears and vision are absolutely incredible, says Tommy Mottola, chief executive of Sony Music, which distributes the Crescent Moon label. He's in front of the curve all the time.
And at the head of a $200 million empire that includes interests in music publishing and real estate. He and Gloria--who were recently ranked No. 31 on the Forbes list of the world's richest entertainers--live in an opulent oceanfront mansion where Picassos hang next to paintings by Cuban artists. But Estefan isn't slowing down. His latest venture is a deal with Studio U.S.A. to produce sitcoms and made-for-TV movies. Says Studio U.S.A. president Ken Solomon: Emilio is really one of the leaders in the world in bringing Latin performers to the mainstream.