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Tomas Cookman, pictured in the North Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, November 12, 2012, is owner-founder of Nacional Records, an alternative-Latino label and management company. (Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

From July 6th to the 9th thousands of people will rush New York City to tap into the pulse of the Latin music world. The Latin Alternative Music Conference – the biggest event of its kind catering entirely to the Latino music industry – will be held the Big Apple. The festivities include a wide array of industry panels, movie screenings and of course, performances. We had a chance to chat with the founder of LAMC and CEO of Nacional Records, Tomas Cookman on how LAMC came to be and the good, bad and ugly of putting all together.

From CBGB to LAMC

A career in music was destined for Tomas, the Boricua grew up in New York City’s Lower East Side and his neighborhood served as the backdrop for the punk rock movement in the 70’s and 80’s. As a drummer for a band named Colors, Tomas would take part in that movement, as the one and only Hilly Crystal, then owner of CBGB’s, managed him. This meant gigs there every other weekend, drink tickets and free admission whenever they wanted. It also meant the best education any musician could ask for.

Yet, after the punk scene faded Tomas moved to Argentina where he would transition from being an artist to managing them, starting with groups Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Manu Chao. As their careers and music flourished Tomas wanted to do more, he wanted to find a way to give everyone access to what he had. Thus LAMC was born.

LAMC started in 2000 after years of frustration with how Latin music was handled in existing conferences. “It’s interesting because I remember back in the day we would have a panel at CMJ and other music conferences at the time and they always made it seem like someone was throwing us a bone by having a Latino panel. It was always packed. So, I remember thinking well no, we can do this and do this even better.”

Do it better they did. LAMC is now described by the New York Times as “The Sundance of Latin Music” as it serves as an incubator for up-and–coming talent. Everyone from Pitbull to Kinky to Bebe have graced the stages. It’s one of Tomas’ proudest accomplishments, “A few years ago we had an artist perform named Bebe, I didn’t know who she was at the time and we gave her a Central Park show. Then a couple months later at the Latin Grammys she had six nominations. Or even Calle 13 – when they first played they weren’t ‘Calle 13’ yet. So, it’s been wonderful to see their phenomenal growth, and many others, we’ve had so many acts that have done so much for the arts and culture here in the United States and abroad as well. I think it helps a lot that I am and was originally an artist manager so I have always been very artist friendly. I love the whole idea of ‘build it and they will come.’ Well we built it and people came.”

So what’s next for the conference? “I’d like to see more young people get involved. I’d like to see more young students. I’d like to see education having a bigger part, because that’s what’s coming. We need smarter people in the industry because this is a changing industry and it’s filled with opportunities.”

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About The Author

Navani Otero

Navani Otero is a New York City based multi-media journalist. Her work has been published in The New York Post, Latina, XXL Magazine, In Touch Weekly, msnNOW and MTV News. The self-professed music junkie splits her free time helping out on The Heavy Hitters Radio Show on SiriusXM and mentoring aspiring teen writers. You can read her observations on life at www.navaniknows.com.

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