Veteran promoter Henry Cárdenas, whose clients include stars like Marc Anthony, leads Billboard’s annual roster of influencers in a genre whose artists are storming the pop charts and shaping musical tastes around the globe.
Founder/CEO, Cárdenas Marketing Network
As founder/CEO of Cárdenas Marketing Network (CMN), Henry Cárdenas has long been the top independent Latin music promoter in the United States, the man behind a bevy of successful arena tours by megawatt stars like Marc Anthony, Chayanne, Daddy Yankee and, most recently, Maluma, Sech and Bad Bunny.
But lately, Cárdenas, 63, has felt others rattling his cage. “We were fat and happy,” he says. “Then, everywhere I looked, there was Live Nation breathing down my neck. And that motivated me to get up and see what was happening.”
What was happening was a flow of talent beyond the big superstars CMN had long promoted. So Cárdenas got to work, looking for emerging talent — and scooping it up before anyone else did.
Cárdenas opened a booking arm at CMN that he says has grown more than 200% in the past year and now includes 12 acts (with such younger artists as Sech, Manuel Turizo and Becky G among them), as well as stars like Anthony. It is the fastest-growing sector in a company that also pushed beyond music for opportunities in sports events and experiential marketing. The diversification allows Cárdenas to have a footprint in many areas, straddling multiple genres — from regional Mexican to pop — with artists big and small in a way he didn’t before.
Between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019, CMN grossed $102.5 million and sold 1,046,652 tickets across 161 shows, according to data the company has reported to Billboard Boxscore. That places CMN at No. 9 on Boxscore’s list of top promoters for that period.
In addition to the concerts tracked by Boxscore, Cárdenas says, he produced over 300 events in 2018, his biggest year ever, selling 2 million-plus tickets. Those events include Bad Bunny’s and Maluma’s arena tours, as well as those of longtime client Anthony. Last year, Anthony signed a $160 million multiyear, international touring deal with CMN (in conjunction with management company Magnus Media), perhaps the most lucrative touring deal ever for a Latin artist.
A typical weekend for Cárdenas in September included regional Mexican giants Banda MS performing at New York’s Madison Square Garden and Maluma playing Los Angeles’ Forum, as well as concerts by tropical star Silvestre Dangond in Montréal; Nicky Jam in McAllen, Texas; and Turizo in Mexico.
As for Cárdenas, he was in his hometown of Cali, Colombia, where he produced a stadium show by Mexican diva Ana Gabriel and, the next day, he attended the groundbreaking ceremony for a new facility at Casita de Belén, an organization for at-risk children and families in one of Cali’s poorest areas. The facility was financed by Maestro Cares, the foundation Cárdenas created in 2012 with Anthony that to date has financed 16 facilities in Latin America and one in the United States.
“I never knew what a foundation was, what philanthropy was,” says Cárdenas. “When you’re young, all you want to do is get ahead and receive. But I’m at a stage where I know I have to give back.”
Maestro Cares raises money through an annual gala (this year, that event brought in $1.8 million) and through all CMN shows, which donate $1.50-$2 per ticket to the foundation. But increasingly, “my mission is to involve others, especially artists,” says Cárdenas, who also works closely in his foundation projects with his concert promotion partners in different countries. For example, he has partnered with UNICEF and Bad Bunny’s foundation, Good Bunny, to rebuild baseball fields in Puerto Rico that Hurricane Maria destroyed.
“Before, the only artist who contributed was Marc Anthony,” says Cárdenas. “And I thought, ‘I have all these contacts. Why don’t I motivate them?’ Many people want to help, but they just don’t know how.”
While Maestro Cares is mostly focused on improving conditions for children in Latin America and the Caribbean, Cárdenas’ biggest concern at the moment is the immigration crisis in the United States, where he has lived since he left Siloé, one of Cali’s most notorious slums, to come live with an uncle in Chicago when he was only 16 years old.
“From conversations of building a wall to the separation of families — these are critical issues influencing the music industry,” he says, noting that concert attendance has been affected as regional Mexican audiences shy away from gatherings that immigration officials could target.
“The political language of discrimination and fear, along with negative news coverage, is creating an environment of uncertainty,” he says. “Naturally, the Latin community is apprehensive. [But] I have high hopes this will change. Music is an art form that helps bring us all together. It encourages unity and inspires harmony in our communities.”
— LEILA COBO