Pepe Garza Is 'The Rainmaker of Regional Mexican Music'

Escrito   ▪  06/03/2018


Pepe Garza, 52, is thinking like a teenager these days.

As a radio personality, TV talent-show judge and awards show producer, Garza has long been a tastemaker in the world of regional Mexican music. Now he’s focused on content shareable on social media to draw younger fans. His YouTube program, Pepe’s Office, has gained nearly 679,000 subscribers since Garza began featuring interviews with the rising young stars of the genre. He’s aiming for 1 million subscribers by June, when the show will mark its second anniversary...

Garza already is a multimedia star in the regional Mexican music world, which is the most popular radio format in the United States among Latino listeners, according to Nielsen. He’s the program director of FM station KBUE (Que Buena) Los Angeles and oversees Don Cheto Al Aire, the outlet’s popular morning show. He’s a judge on Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento on the national Estrella TV network. And he’s the creator of the Premios de la Radio awards show, which celebrates the achievements of the regional Mexican industry.


Claudia Garcia
The judges panel on the set of Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento, from left: Don Cheto, Joss Favela, Ana Bárbara and Garza.


“Pepe is the rainmaker of regional Mexican music,” says Manny Prado, senior director of West Coast operations for Sony Music Entertainment. “He’s got a golden ear. He has consistently identified hits and entire musical trends within regional Mexican music. Pepe understands culture, and tries to understand street culture as well. He’s the one that moves the needle.”

And now Pepe’s Office has extended Garza’s influence even further. “The young crowd that follows me in Mexico have no idea who I am beyond the online show,” says Garza. “They just see me as this YouTuber who talks to music acts in his office.”

Located in the Burbank, Calif., headquarters of KBUE and Estrella TV’s parent company, Liberman Broadcasting, Garza’s office overlooks the sprawl of the media-focused city northwest of Los Angeles. Its walls are adorned with awards, and a few precisely placed tchotchkes line his desk and shelves, including a Pepe’s Office cap. By a corner near his desk: a photo of the late regional Mexican star Jenni Rivera, along with dried flowers she sent him years before she died, in 2012.


Courtesy of Pepe Garza
From left: Garza with El Fantasma in 2017 and Rivera in 2008.


In the most recent Nielsen ratings, KBUE’s share of its core audience, Hispanic men ages 25-54, rose 16 percent over the previous year in Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest media market. Last September, Garza began the 17th season of Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento. His success has helped fuel the rise of Liberman, the largest privately held, minority-owned Spanish-language broadcaster in the United States.

“It has been great to see Pepe grow,” says national Spanish-radio consultant Eddie Leon, who is also executive vp programming at Liberman. “He’s credible because he knows his music, the business, and is very influential, on top of being a highly recognized personality with great insights. He has this great competitive spirit and is always very aware of what the audience wants.”

Garza, who was born in Monterrey, Mexico, came to the States in 1998 with a decade of broadcasting experience in Mexico behind him, in locations including his hometown, Mexico City and Guadalajara. The father of two daughters, ages 10 and 12, with his wife, TV personality Elisa Beristain, Garza marks 20 years with Liberman in 2018.

On a recent afternoon in his office-turned-studio, Garza reflected on his rise in media, the changes in regional Mexican music and the crucial education about the music business that he received from his mother.

How did Pepe’s Office start?
Artists would come to my office, and one day I thought, “Why not record what happens during these visits?” We had no idea we were going to find an audience. I’d interview celebrities, and people picked up on that and started following us. The show really resonates with very young people.

As you showcase younger artists, what changes have you seen in regional Mexican music?
It used to be that artists were more about the music and the craft, and today the music business is more personality-driven. You had great performers and singers like Vicente Fernández that older generations today still regard as important. In contrast, many of the new generation of artists are focused on the look more than the music. The new generation of fans do not necessarily want to know anything about the past.


Courtesy of Pepe Garza
Garza (seated) in the studio at one of his first radio jobs in Guadalajara, Mexico, in the 1990s with (from left) engineer Sergio Olaes, radio personality Javier Gonzalez and programmer Arturo Buenrostro.


Will Pepe’s Office turn into something even bigger?
Pepe’s Office would be great to have at a place like Netflix, or possibly part of an app program tied to a variety of shows. Oprah [Winfrey] has her OWN apps, and I don’t see why we can’t have something like that.

This isn't your first successful idea for a show. Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento began 17 seasons ago. How did it come about?
It was born in the vein of American Idol. Having young judges like Gerardo Ortiz and Luis Coronel was a way for younger viewers to tune in. But things are changing. These days, so much is now about watching online or on the phone. The television screen is suddenly an option, or people just turn it off and watch on their own time. It’s all about on-demand now.



One subgenre of regional Mexican music comprises narcocorridos, or songs of the Mexican drug trade. What are your thoughts about that?
There are songs that speak about drugs and Mexico’s violence, and they are very successful in the underground [scene]. I’ve helped these songs go mainstream. We have the freedom of expression, and people have the right to tell these stories involving violence -- and those stories should be told.

However, I have an idea that’s pending. I want to create content for young people because I have some very young fans, and I feel that it’s my obligation to inform them about drugs. I don’t want to tell them not to do drugs. But I do want to tell young people that drugs affect different people in different ways. I want to inform these young people about this topic, to educate them about what can happen when they do drugs.

But that doesn't mean I will stop supporting or listening to narcocorridos.


Claudia Garcia
Pepe Garza on the set of Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento.


What do you think about regional Mexican star Espinoza Paz speaking publicly to Univision about performing at private parties in Mexico hosted by those allegedly in the drug trade?
There are artists who will speak on that topic on their own, but I don’t engage too much on that theme [of their connections]. I’m not sure that it’s a conversation that needs to take place.

How important has it been to talk with your own children about drugs?
My dad at one point told me that he drank plenty earlier in his life, but he never told me until I was much older. I do speak to my daughters openly about drugs. In fact, I want to create a campaign that will reach young people, but I don’t want to scold them.

It’s important to inform. I don’t smoke marijuana because I smoked pot when I was younger, and it’s not for me. Pot causes me anxiety, and I panic. People need to know the facts because now people can go and buy pot much easier than ever.

You’ve moved from radio to TV to live events with the Premios de la Radio awards, and now to social media. Do you have a favorite medium?
At some point there were opportunities to venture away from radio. But I could never leave. Radio was the right fit for me, and it always has been more immediate in terms of getting projects done than the layers you have in television.

Claudia Garcia
Pepe Garza


After 20 years at Liberman, what is your relationship with the company?
They have a lot of faith in me. I’m at this company because I’ve had opportunities to have my ideas taken seriously. [In Mexico], my dad worked 28 years at a company. I like working at a company and getting a paycheck.

Where did you get your passion for music and celebrating compositions and the craft itself?
My mother, Alicia, knew songwriters [in Mexico] such as Pepe Guízar, who wrote “Guadalajara,” among other songs. He was a friend. When I was a child, she spoke to me about composers, and she knew what songs were written by all these songwriters. That stayed with me all these years. In some ways I continued to follow in my mom’s steps, which is something she could not do because she got married.

What do you think your legacy will be?
I hope that people remember me as someone who discovered things and could help people reach their potential. I’d like to think that I’m someone who is dedicated to music and has been able to open doors for many people. It’s not about money. I know people who needed to find a way into this business, and I’m proud that I was able to help them.

This article originally appeared in the March 3 issue of Billboard.

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