singers perfect their espaņol
April 4, 2007
MIAMI - Wyclef Jean has sold millions of records as a solo artist and as a
founding member of the hip-hop group The Fugees. Still, few in the mainly
Latin-crowd seemed to recognize the Grammy-winner when he leaped onto the stage
at a recent sold-out concert.
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.aznightbuzz.com/stories/176465
That is, until Colombian superstar Shakira shimmied onto the floor, and the two
traded Spanish and English rhymes from her smash hit "Hips Don't Lie." At that
point, the crowd roared for both.
A few years ago, the big Latin crossover involved Spanish-speaking performers
making it big by singing in English - including sensations like Ricky Martin,
Shakira and Marc Anthony. Nowadays, stars like Jean, Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez
are kicking it the other way - singing and rapping in Spanish for the
hemisphere's Hispanic market.
It's not hard to see why.
Salsa, boleros, cumbia, alt-rock, reggaeton - Latin music offers a little
something for everyone. Then there's the state of the declining music industry.
As more fans illegally download music and selectively purchase singles instead
of entire albums, record labels are desperate for new listeners. The estimated
32 million Spanish speakers in the United States, not to mention another roughly
400 million Spanish-speakers in Spain and Latin America, are markets screaming
to be tapped.
"It's hard to ignore when 11 million people watch the Latin Grammys," said Jose
Cancela, author of the book, "The Power of Business en espanol," and a 25-year
veteran of Spanish-language radio and television.
"What more and more artists are seeing is that the growth of Spanish-language
media, especially in the top 25 markets in the country, is having real impact on
airplay and on viewership," he added.
This week, Beyonce is reissuing her multiplatinum, Grammy-winning album "B'Day"
with seven tracks in Spanish, including a duet with Shakira. The idea for the
Spanish side of the album was born with a duet her group, Destiny's Child,
recorded with Spanish pop singer Alejandro Sanz four years ago.
"A lot of my Latin fans said 'Oh, you should do more songs in Spanish,"' Beyonce
said during a recent press conference in her hometown of Houston.
Beyonce took them to heart, recording Spanish versions of hits like
"Irreplaceable" and "Listen" from the film "Dreamgirls".
Jennifer Lopez, who was born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents, also just
released her first complete Spanish album, "Como Ama Una Mujer" or "How a Woman
Loves." Lopez has said she did her first demo in Spanish, but back then the
labels weren't interested. Now she'll likely sing one of her Spanish songs when
she appears in an upcoming episode of TV's "American Idol."
Even kiddie crooner Dan Zanes, who happily acknowledges "I am such an Anglo," is
working on an entire CD in Spanish due early next year.
Pop musicians have recorded songs in other languages before, but in recent years
the number of top U.S. artists rolling that Spanish "r" seems to keep growing.
The benefits go both ways. Jean's duet with Shakira, "Hips Don't Lie," became a
global hit and boosted sales of her English album "Oral Fixation Vol. 2."
Meanwhile, Beyonce's recently recorded a duet with Mexico's Alejandro Fernandez
for a telenovela version of "Zorro," which is sure to cross-pollinate fans.
Miami-based music producer Rudy Perez, the go-to man for Spanish lyrics, adds
that even second- and third-generation Hispanic fans like the idea that artists
are reaching out to them, validating their heritage by singing in their parents'
or grandparents' language.
But interest in Spanish is personal for some artists, he says.
Perez started the crossover work with Christian music star Jaci Velasquez, who
is Mexican-American, then went on to work with Christina Aguilera for her 2000
album, "Mi Reflejo." Neither woman spoke much Spanish - Aguilera's father is
from Ecuador but she was raised mostly by her German-American mother - and both
wanted to get in touch with their roots, he said.
"Like a lot of kids in the U.S., they might live Latin but speak English," he
Perez often writes out the Spanish lyrics phonetically for the artists. He
spends hours playing with words to make each line end with a sound similar to
the English version to keep the music familiar.
Aguilera's Spanish was so convincing that Perez had to go out and explain to
Spanish-language media before her press conferences that she wasn't fluent in
Beyonce also worked with Perez and has received rave reviews for her accent.
Even though she doesn't speak Spanish, Beyonce said growing up in Texas, she was
influenced by Hispanic friends and culture and vowed to work hard on her
"I really wanted to respect the language," she said.
Zanes also said he's interested in learning more about the culture behind the
"It's such a big part of America and New York," the Brooklyn, N.Y. hipster. "Not
speaking the language, I felt like I was missing out on a lot fun."
U.S. stars aren't the only ones crossing over. Canadian chanteuse Nelly Furtado,
who is of Portuguese descent, had a hit song with Colombian rocker Juanes a few
years back; she has Spanish cuts on her latest album "Loose," including one with
Juanes. Czech singer Marta Topferova has received rave reviews for her Latin
boleros. And the Japanese salsa group, Orchestra de la Luz, has played worldwide
for more than a decade.
So far, the Spanish-language forays seem well-received by listeners. Vanessa
Garcia, who hooked her Venezuelan-born mother on Aguilera after playing the
singer's Spanish album, said she'd probably pick up Beyonce's album.
"Beyonce in Spanish is a little weird," said the 18-year-old fan. "But her