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Ricky Rocks Again…He Returns To His Latin Roots

Ricky Rocks Again


May 18, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Herald and Weekly Times Limited. All rights reserved.

Heart-throb Ricky Martin is back after two years in self-exile, reports KATHERINE TULICH LATIN superstar Ricky Martin may have had the world at his feet - hit albums, sold out concerts, but three years ago he found that he had a little too much Livin' La Vida Loca.

"I realised that I had more cars than I had friends. It was time to stop and get off the merry-go-round," he says.

Livin' La Vida Loca was the song that took the Puerto Rico-born singer to stardom in 1999. His Latino sizzler went No. 1 in 23 countries, and his first English-language album, Ricky Martin, sold 18 million copies across the world. He toured the world playing to two million people, but the fast track to fame almost sped off without him.

"I had no time to think, I had no time to feel, I was only allowing myself to be active. You don't want to lose time is all you think. `I need to do the concerts, need to do the press conferences, I need to work work, work'," he said.

After the release of his second English album, Sound Loaded in 2000, Martin decided to turn his back on the fame and the adulation and disappear from the spotlight.

"I had been working non-stop since I was 12, so it was the toughest decision I had to make, but I needed to stop. I needed to find my centre, my focus, I guess.

"Everything was really hectic, but the adrenaline and the euphoria I was surrounded by caught me, so I decided to go back home to Puerto Rico. I got to know myself better and I got to feel again, which was something I was missing," he said.

As well as spending time in the country of his birth, Martin also sacrificed everyday luxuries by working in an ashram in India.

"I went to New Delhi and did a concert for 55,000 people and two weeks later I'm in an ashram just waking up early every morning and meditating with the sunrise, cooking bread, taking a nap, reading, just simple things, but it was what I needed," he said.

But Martin is now back on the treadmill. He is in the middle of a hectic schedule of interviews and photo shoots to promote his comeback album, Almas Del Silencio (Souls of Silence).

It is his first album release in three years and media curiosity is high. Reporters have flown in from around the world to his US home base of Miami where he owns a home and a studio.

D ESPITE his gruelling schedule, he shows no sign of fatigue. He seems at peace and calm when you sit down to talk and he ponders questions slowly and thoughtfully before giving an answer. I ask how has he changed.

"Just the fact that today I can be in a room and silent. I used to be surrounded by constant noise all the time. I would walk into a room and turn on the TV and turn on the radio and be surrounded by people and today I love silence."

While Martin is credited with creating the Latin explosion that paved the way for other artists such as Enrique Iglesias and Shakira to cross over into the mainstream, he said as a child in Puerto Rico his ambitions were far more humble.

"I auditioned for this band (Spanish boy band Menudo), when I was 12 and I was accepted, but the reasons I wanted to be in this band were simple - it got me out of school and it got me out of Puerto Rico. But when I joined I realised it was not a game. It was a lot of work for a child ... one day I was riding my bike from my house to school and the next day I was on a plane for a press conference in Brazil. It was very surreal, but I literally took it one day at a time," he said.

"Everybody talks to me about the Latin explosion and the boom and I swear to God it was not my intention. I was enjoying what I was doing at that specific moment, but it was not my mission - all I wanted to do was bring my music and my culture around the world. Then all of a sudden a movement was created."

But, coincidentally, while he may have spawned the "Spanglish" (a combination of English and Spanish language) revolution, Martin was in danger of losing music credibility as he seemed more concerned with chasing chart fodder accompanied by splashy combustible dance videos. His comeback album was expected (especially by his record company) to be another Spanglish triumph, but instead the singer decided to stop mid-stream through recording, and make an all-Spanish album, his first since Vuelve in 1998.

`I HAD recorded 36 songs in English, but one day I woke up and said no I have to go back to Spanish. I needed to get back to basics," he said.

He enlisted some of Latin music's top writers and producers including Emilio Estefan and Alesandro Sanz.

The one concession to his English fans is his first single, Jaleo, a fusion of Brazilian, Middle Eastern and African rhythms. "Jaleo means explosion of emotion and I think that's what you will feel when you hear it," he said.

Martin says the rest of Almas del Silencio represents a renovation and an evolution.

"You will clearly see I am not the same person who recorded Livin' La Vida Loca," he said. He also tried his hand at songwriting. He wrote Asignatura Pendiente (Pending Assignment), which he claims is his most personal effort to date.

"It's a song where I dare to speak my mind. I really express the ups and down I've been through. I dare to say things I haven't never spoken about in the past."

While the lyrics refer to his lavish lifestyle ("An enormous house that I can see from the plane, I got three offices and an apartment in New York," he says) it is the only clue the Latino heart-throb will give about his personal life.

Martin remains guarded on this aspect of his life. At the height of his popularity there was a storm of headlines wondering `Is he or isn't he?' (gay). Martin never directly answered the question, and still avoids it, though he was quick to say he was looking forward to a family.

"My life is very private and it will always be very private and I will defend my intimacy with a knife in my mouth," he said defiantly.

"I think I've done a very good job at it ... Do I want to have a family? Of course I do. I would love to be a daddy. I can't wait to go home one day and be welcomed by, `Daddy, daddy, daddy'."

If Almas del Silencio alienates his English audience, Martin is unconcerned. "Y'know, when I went to Australia for the first time with my music it was a very Latin sound and it was recorded in Spanish and in the beginning Australia accepted me. It reassures my belief that music breaks boundaries and that language is not an issue."

Martin said a tour (including Australia) was on the cards for next year, but he doesn't see himself on the gruelling schedule he once was, which included a two-year promotional trip that had him visiting 300 cities in 50 countries.

Ricky Martin Returns To His Latin Roots


May 20, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved.

PHOTO: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

After a two-year self-imposed exile, Ricky Martin has a new image and an album in Spanish.

MIAMI — Ricky Martin says he knew he needed a break when he began getting angry onstage. Performing had become a chore. Living the life of the world's most popular crossover pop singer had consumed him. Martin mania had taken its toll.

"I was in such an obsessive mode," Mr. Martin, 31, recalled on a recent afternoon at his home here. " `Yes, let's do the concerts, let's do he press conferences, the videos, the magazine covers.' "

"I'm not complaining," he went on. "I am who I am because of those years, but I needed to kick back."

But Mr. Martin did more than kick back. He disappeared. Once a ubiquitous presence, he dropped off the music charts and out of the public eye. Now, however, after a two-year self-imposed exile, he is back with a new album, "Almas del Silencio (Souls of Silence)" (Sony), a collection of songs that are far more substantial and introspective than the sugary, good-time pop Mr. Martin is known for.

His look has changed, too. Gone are the tight black leather ensembles. His latest haircut, shaved nearly bald in the back with heavy, eye-grazing wisps in the front, is reminiscent of Rosie O'Donnell's punk look.

But the biggest change is Mr. Martin's return to singing in Spanish, something he had not done since his 1998 Grammy-Award-winning album, "Vuelve." The crossover artist has crossed back, once again courting the core Latin audience that he had left behind to go mainstream.

Mr. Martin, who is best known for "Livin' la Vida Loca," an inescapable song from 1999 about a wild woman with devil-red lips and skin the color of mocha, said his decision to sing in Spanish was not premeditated. In fact, he said, he had already recorded 36 songs in English when he abruptly shifted gears.

"One morning," he recalled, "I woke up and said: `I have not recorded a Spanish album in five years. Stop everything right now. I am recording in Spanish.' " As he spoke, Mr. Martin threw his hands in the air dramatically, showing an actor's flair that harked back to his days as a soap opera star.

His decision to cross back over was not well received, even though he plans another English-language release early next year. "My record label went berserk," Mr. Martin said with a chuckle. He refused to budge, he said. "I needed to go back to the beginning. I needed to go back to Puerto Rico."

He was born Enrique Martin IV in San Juan, P.R., the son of a psychologist (his father) and an accountant (his mother). But it is not just Puerto Rico that Mr. Martin revisits on "Almas," which is to be released on May 20. African drums, Andes flutes, reggae rhythms and light rock can all be heard on the album. Mr. Martin also enlisted the help of several of Latin pop's luminaries: Spain's Alejandro Sanz, Colombia's Juanes, Guatemala's Ricardo Arjona and the Miami-based producer Emilio Estefan, to name a few.

If "Ricky Martin" and "Sound Loaded" — his two English efforts — were largely about the fiesta, the reflective "Almas" looks at life after the revelers have long gone home. One track, "Tal Vez," which has been No. 1 on the Billboard Latin chart since it was released as a single in March, is a stirring ballad about regret. "Maybe I neglected you/ Maybe I forgot that I loved you," he sings. "Asignature Pendiente (Pending Assignment)" finds him pondering the price of fame: "How can I have more cars than friends?"

"I don't want to say I was depressed," Mr. Martin said, referring to the introspective nature of his album. "I don't want to sound dramatic, but I was really allowing myself to feel. I was not trying to avoid my emotions by being onstage or working. I was here in my house absorbing it all."

Mr. Martin's home, a sparsely decorated ode to minimalism, is teeming with rich earth tones. Framed black-and-white photographs of Sting, Elvis Presley, David Bowie and Nat King Cole posing with Frank Sinatra rest dutifully on chocolate brown bookshelves. Buddha figurines of various sizes abound.

A four-foot-tall wooden statue of the deity welcomes guests as they enter the Martin property, a Mediterranean-style expanse overlooking Miami Bay. Over the years, Mr. Martin has dabbled in Judaism, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism and the Church of Scientology and has been given to New Age-like pronouncements ("Not everything we know is what exists"). Yet he insists he is not religious but "spiritual." He enjoys the teachings of Buddhism, he said, because "they're not judgmental."

Since his days as a member of the Latin boy band Menudo, Mr. Martin has had to contend with critics who question his artistic credibility. Ken-doll looks (right down to the chiseled jaw and dimpled chin) coupled with lightweight lyrics have kept many from taking him seriously. Indeed, it is arguable that those very things are what ensured Mr. Martin's success in the United States, home to frothy shows like "Are You Hot?"

"He's very much a version of the Latin identity that plays well in Middle America," said Elizabeth Mendez Berry, the music editor of Vibe magazine. "Tall, dark and handsome — but not too dark. He doesn't represent `the other' in any significant way, and his music is the embodiment of that. Tepid pop rock with Latin flavor, but not too much flavor. If you bottled Ricky Martin, he'd be mild salsa."

What Mr. Martin lacks in depth he makes up for in charisma. And he sure can put on a show. After a rousing performance at the 1999 Grammy Awards, Mr. Martin, who had released three albums in Latin America and had been working since he was 12, was heralded as an overnight sensation. Swiveling his hips into the hearts of millions, he became the symbol of the so-called Latin explosion of the late 90's, in which singers like Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony and Enrique Iglesias rose to prominence. Though he did not see it at the time, Mr. Martin said, he now believes that the idea of a Latin boom is inherently racist. "Latin music has always been here," he said. "You just have to open your eyes."

"Sound Loaded," the 2000 follow-up to "Ricky Martin," sold a respectable four million copies, but the mania had clearly begun to wane. "Ricky Martin" had sold 15 million. Mr. Martin described the recording of "Loaded" as a "painful process" and a "headache."

"A lot of the time he'd be learning the song as he was recording it," said George Noriega, a producer who has worked closely with Mr. Martin for years. "Now he wants to be more involved in the creative process; he wants to feel the music."

Mr. Martin said he had left songwriting to others in the past for fear that his work would be derided. But he has put pen to pad for "Nadie Mas Que Tu," a song about obsessive love. "I have let go of a lot of my ego," he said, "so now I am not afraid of being judged."

He may be pouring his heart out on paper, but Mr. Martin is cagey when discussing his love life. He once appeared on the cover of The Advocate, the gay magazine, fueling speculation about his sexuality. In the interview he playfully dodged questions about an on-again, off-again girlfriend, Rebecca de Alba, a television personality in Mexico. Is he available? "I'm always available," Mr. Martin said with a mischievous smile. He has a theory on why so much attention has been paid to the goings on in his bedroom. "They all want me," he said. "Boys, girls, men, women, dogs, cats — they all want to have sex with Ricky. And they can all fantasize if they want to.`

Chances are slim that Mr. Martin will ever rival the spectacular success of "Ricky Martin," but he insists he is not ready to disappear again. "I am not going to be forgotten," he said, flashing a grin.

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