MEXICO CITY (AP) — Édgar Barrera is one of the most in-demand people in music. He’s worked with everyone from Madonna and Shakira to Peso Pluma and Karol G. He has one Grammy and 18 Latin Grammys already to his name, and is the top nominee at Thursday’s 2023 Latin Grammys ceremony.
Unlike most of his contemporaries dominating the music industry, though, Barrera is a producer and songwriter first, recently receiving a songwriter of the year nod for the Grammys in February.
“Being an artist who is a public figure and things like that doesn’t really catch my attention,” he told The Associated Press in Spanish during a video call from Miami earlier this year. “I don’t like that prominence or anything like that. Being hidden behind, writing the songs, producing, doing what I like to do, what I know how to do, that is enough, and I don’t need the mark of being the artist, of being named.”
Yet named he is — 13 times at this year’s Latin Grammys, held in Seville, Spain, including in the biggest categories: recording of the year (for “La formula” by Maluma and Marc Anthony), album of the year (for “De Adentro Pa Afuera” by Camilo) and song of the year (twice — for “NASA” by Camilo and Alejandro Sanz and “un x100to” by Grupo Frontera and Bad Bunny).
He’s also nominated in the brand-new songwriter of the year category of the Latin Grammys, and says he’s proud to be recognized alongside his collaborators and mentors. Barrera walks the line between what a producer is and what an artist is, feeling better behind the console than in front of a microphone.
“I am here to provide a service to artists,” he said. “I am there to facilitate what they want to say in their career, and that is my job.”
It’s impossible to confine Barrera — or the artists with whom he works — to a single genre.
“Sometimes I spend like weeks doing urban things and then weeks doing regional Mexican, then another week doing pop, tropical also another week,” he said. “I do a little bit of everything, so as not to get saturated with a single rhythm or a single sound.”
It was Barrera’s bet to introduce Bad Bunny to regional Mexican music — and, in the process, work with an artist with whom he had always wanted to enter the studio.
“It’s very difficult, when the artist is so good at what he does, for example, Bad Bunny is one of the best (expletive) composers the industry has and with the best results,” he said. “What can I contribute to Bad Bunny, what can I send him to make him look at me again? He doesn’t need anyone’s help.”
Fortunately for him, the Puerto Rican reggaetonero had wanted to do something with a Mexican touch for a long time.
On the other hand, there’s Grupo Frontera, until recently a relatively unknown band who Barrera encouraged to go from its beginnings playing cover songs at parties to performing at Mexico City’s Zócalo during the Mexican Independence Day festivities in September. (“From playing for 20 people last year in April to playing for 220,000 is a great achievement,” Barrera said.)
Barrera had an immediate connection with the band because they are “kids from my town” and grew up in the same region on the border between Texas and the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Barrera, who was born in McAllen, Texas, grew up in Miguel Alemán, Tamaulipas, and has dual nationality, defines himself as a man of the frontier.
“We come from the same culture, we speak the same language,” he said of Grupo Frontera.
“Un x100to” is one of the few regional Mexican music songs that have managed to reach the song of the year category at this year’s Latin Grammys.
Barrera is also nominated three times in the best tropical song category: for “La formula” again, “Ambulancia” by Camilo and Camila Cabello, and “El merengue” by Manuel Turizo and Marshmello. He wondered how Marshmello would translate to the genre, but Barrera was pleasantly surprised with the American DJ and producer’s interest in Latin music.
“He told me, ‘It’s not about translating anything to my sound, I want to get into your sound, I want to make a merengue, teach me how to make a merengue,’” Barrera recalled.
Being nominated for producer of the year again represents all the behind-the-scenes work Barrera enjoys, though he cautions it’s “much more than just writing a song.”
“I don’t wait for things to happen, I always make things happen in the studio,” he said, summing up his overall approach.
And he ultimately measures his achievements not by how many trophies he accepts on stage, but by the streets.
“For me, the greatest success that a song has is the acceptance of the public and that the public consumes it,” he said. “There is a mariachi (in Miami) that plays every night, and they are playing my songs all the time, that for me is the reward for what one makes music at the end of the day.”