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THE MIAMI HERALD
Marc Anthony: Libre At Last
BY JORDAN LEVIN
November 20, 2001
Marc Anthony swears that Libre, his new salsa album, which will be released today, is the most significant record he's ever made. Which is saying something since the last five have all gone gold or platinum, making him the best-selling star in salsa.
``I have never felt in my life how I feel about this record, and it represents me more than anything I've ever done,'' he says, leaning forward in a poolside bungalow at the Delano Hotel, all big eyes and gesticulating hands.
Of course, he warns, he feels that way about everything he does.
``I'm not afraid to feel,'' he says. ``There has never been a day I've done something that I wouldn't die for. There's no halfway. It's exhausting.''
But now life is also exhilarating for the 33-year-old Anthony, as Libre (Free) marks his return to the genre in which he became a star. He dominated salsa in the latter half of the 1990s, topping radio playlists and the Billboard Latin charts with 1995's Todo a su tiempo (Everything in Time), 1997's Contra la corriente (Against the Current) and a 1999 compilation, Desde un principio (From the Start).
Then came the release of Marc Anthony, his English-language pop debut. Powered by the success of the catchy cha-cha/pop single Dímelo/I Need to Know, the album sold more than 2 million copies in the U.S.
Now his record company is hoping they can capture all that success in one album. Sony Discos and Columbia Records are co-releasing Libre, which is in Spanish, and marketing it to both Spanish- and English-language audiences. In January they'll do the same with an as-yet-untitled English-language pop album. (The two records were originally supposed to be released simultaneously, but delays related to the September terrorist attacks pushed back the pop release).
``The huge success he has had with his English-language recording has positioned him to be recognized as a multitalented figure in the industry, who's not limited to one language or genre,'' says Jorge Meléndez, executive vice president of Sony Discos. ``For us, this Spanish-language album comes at a time where the market has been difficult in general, and more specifically in tropical music. We feel Marc is of the stature where he can help rebound the marketplace.
``By partnering with Columbia, we have the opportunity to . . . cross the salsa disc over the other way.''
Anthony's success earned him a rare amount of creative control over Libre. He selected all the songs and produced the album with his longtime keyboardist Juanito Gonzalez at the studio he built in his new Long Island home, taking a luxurious eight months. He incorporated new rhythms and unusual instruments -- such as an accordion and Andean flute -- that he'd fallen in love with on his travels.
He also arranged the songs and wrote the soneos, or improvised sections, getting co-writing credit for all but one song. But according to Billboard Magazine, that arrangement led three songwriters originally scheduled to be on the album to drop out, reducing the number of tracks from 12 to nine.
Still, Anthony says, making Libre was intensely satisfying, not only because he had creative control, but because it came during a time of important personal changes. After years of nonstop touring, he had moved from a Manhattan loft to a house in the suburbs with his new wife, Dayanara Torres, and baby son, Cristian Antonio, who was born last spring.
``I got to record it in my new house, with my new wife, my newborn son, with my new label -- I was free to express myself,'' Anthony says. ``I was like `this is it.' That's why it's called Libre, because I felt free.''
The success generated by Anthony's last album and tour -- which ended with three sold-out shows at the Miami Arena -- has opened a host of new possibilities for him. Bruce Springsteen has offered him a song for the English album, for example, and his acting career, which has already led to parts in films by Martin Scorsese and Stanley Tucci, and on Broadway in The Capeman, continues. He's currently on screen on Showtime in Salma Hayek's production of In the Time of the Butterflies.
But at the same time he was moving forward, he decided to take a step back. So it was his decision to follow up his pop success with a return to salsa.
``I needed to record salsa again,'' he says.
The youngest son of Puerto Rican parents who raised eight children in New York, Anthony started his career singing dance music in English. But he had an epiphany while listening to Mexican balladeer Juan Gabriel singing Hasta que te conoci (Until I Met You), and asked his manager if he could record it as salsa.
``I rejected salsa at first -- whenever I would hang out with my friends I'd be like `Mom, would you turn that down.' But it was a bigger part of my life than I ever imagined,'' Anthony says. ``Subliminally, I was being cultured. When it came time for me to sing it, I understood it without trying. I felt like I was in my house again.''
``He's a pop artist in salsa style,'' adds Enrique Fernández, a longtime Latin music writer who is now executive director of the Latin Recording Academy, the group which runs the Latin Grammy awards. ``He does [something] which is his own. But his music is very Latin because it's got a lot of powerful emotion. Salsa should be totally vulnerable, but with such male power. And he has power.''
According to Anthony, that, too, comes from following his impulses.
``When I decided to record salsa, I didn't want to mimic other salsa singers,'' he says. ``I said no, I'm gonna sing it my way.''
And he's confident that more people than ever will embrace it that way.
``I find myself in the best possible position to reach that [mainstream English-speaking] market, but for the right reasons,'' he says. ``Judge me, judge everybody for their music. Now is the time to really see what I was singing for so long.''