From the first time Edi Cruz heard reggaeton, he knew the music was for him.
It was 20 years ago, and the percussion-heavy blend of Spanish-language reggae, dembow and dancehall was pouring into the streets of Honduras from car radios and bars.
When he came back to his home of Montreal, Cruz, who until then sang in church choirs, made the switch to reggaeton to become the artist known today as Cruzito.
"Here in Montreal we never really had the Hispanic culture or media or music at our reach," he says. "We [had to] buy our own CDs and do our own research … reggaeton was very indie in a way."
The genre has gained worldwide traction over the last decade, exploding into the mainstream as Latin artists engage more and more with pop, electronic, R&B and hip-hop sounds. Today, Puerto Rican reggaetonero Bad Bunny is the second-most streamed artist on Spotify, after Drake.
And for the first time ever, an all-reggaeton festival is coming to Montreal — bringing the likes of Nicky Jam, Farruko and Cruzito to the Olympic Park's Esplanade.
"It's probably right now the fastest-growing sound in music," says Ali Shafaee, the director of programming for Festival Fuego Fuego taking place on Saturday.
He says it was a challenge to convince some of the international artists to participate in the new festival, but that ultimately Montreal's selling point was its strong Hispanic community and its potential as a new market for reggaeton.
Shafaee says the festival has a 15,000-person capacity — and that they could very well sell out for this first edition.
Hope for local artists
Cruzito says it's "about time" that Montreal is getting a reggaeton event of this size. He says local artists had started to lose hope in the prospect of a successful reggaeton career that didn't involve moving to Miami, New York or Los Angeles.
"Now we're seeing that Montreal has a healthy system," he says, adding that the festival will help local Latin artists be proud of where they come from.
One such artist is Melissa Orellana Mejia, known as Meliya, who lives in Laval and is only three years into her career. She learned about the festival when she was invited to perform in it.
"I think this type of festival is really going to help us show what we got in Montreal," she says. "We have so much talent here."
Other Montreal artists featured in the Fuego Fuego lineup include Landy Garcia, Greyz, DJ Blaze and DJ D-boy.
Meliya says part of Montreal's potential comes from the diversity of cultures found here. She also hopes the festival will show women in the city that this is a market they can get into, despite reggaeton remaining a male-dominated industry.
Shafaee has plans to extend the festival to a full weekend in 2023. He also hopes the festival helps develop the reggaeton scene beyond Montreal and across Canada.
Cruzito has already done some of that work by creating the Latino division of the Montreal record label he's currently signed with, Joy Ride Records, along with the label's CEO Carlos Munoz.
But he says there could still be more support from radio stations.
"We're here, we're Monreal local artists, we're doing this type of music that's dominating the airwaves," he says. "Can you give us space?"