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Pop Eye Robi Rosa's Putting Himself Back In Front…Sassy Salsa And Magnificent Merengue

Pop Eye Robi Rosa's Putting Himself Back In Front

Steve Hochman

Special to The Times

April 27, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Los Angeles Times. All rights reserved. 

Robi "Draco" Rosa has had a lot of guises in an already extensive music career.

He started out as a member of the Latin-pop teen group Menudo, then fronted rock band Maggie's Dream, released several Portuguese and Spanish solo albums and, perhaps most famously, co-wrote and co-produced fellow former Menudo-ite Ricky Martin's biggest hits, including "Livin' La Vida Loca" and "She Bangs."

Now Rosa is hoping to establish another identity: Robi Rosa.

Rosa is finishing "Mad Love," his first English-language solo album (not counting a version of one of his earlier albums redone with English vocals), due in August from Columbia Records.

This has been such a priority that for two years he has turned down lucrative writing and production offers, and says he'll continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

"Here we are after producing a few records and writing several songs that have been hits, and I'm hoping not to go that way again," says Rosa, 29. "I'm not going to say never, but to be honest, it's not something I want to do. It's getting easier to say no as the days go by."

The New York-born musician says that for "Mad Love" he resisted the temptation to tap Martin or other famous friends to guest on the recordings.

"Those are different projects," he says. "I wouldn't think of a Ricky or J.Lo or anyone else on 'Mad Love.' "

Columbia executives are showing support for Rosa's voyage of self-discovery , even as it's been a struggle at times for the artist. Rosa says he became lost in the creative project last year, though was recharged by a car trip along Pacific Coast Highway with a copy of Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" in the stereo.

He's also traveled extensively in search of inspiration, working with musicians in Brazil, Puerto Rico and Spain, as well as New York, Miami and, primarily, at a new recording studio complex he has built in Los Angeles, where he now lives. Rusty Anderson, who has been playing guitar in Paul McCartney's band, is Rosa's main musical partner, while Van Dyke Parks added some string arrangements. There are clear Latin components in much of the music, but the overall tone is romantic pop reminiscent of Sting.

The studio is headquarters for his company, Phantom Vox, which is overseeing a variety of recording, management and media projects. He has signed several Puerto Rican acts, produces a radio show aired on the island and is exploring the idea of a Phantom Vox newspaper also for Puerto Rico. But the focus is on Rosa's own musical identity.

"My goal is to put this album out, support it and get back in and do the next one," he says. "It's all about having a body of work."

Sassy Salsa And Magnificent Merengue

By Reviewed by Gerald Martinez

April 27, 2003
Copyright © 2003
New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) Berhad. All rights reserved. 

ELVIS CRESPO - Greatest Hits (Columbia) NOW in his early 30s, this Latin rocker was born in New York. His parents were of Puerto Rican descent, and he moved to Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, with his mother at age six.

He started his music career as a back-up singer for several bands, while he was still a student at the Metropolitan University of Puerto Rico.

He was still working for his degree in Business Administration in 1995, when he was offered a gig as the lead vocalist in a merengue group called Grupo Mania.

Elvis wrote and sang their No. 1 hit, Linda Es, but his good looks, ambition and strong voice - with a slight rasp to give it character - made it inevitable that he would take the solo route.

He was an immediate success. His first album, Suavemente, topped the charts and with the title track and the follow-up, Tu Sonrisa, he broke all kinds of records on the Latin music charts.

Those songs are found here. They are engaging salsa numbers which will get your feet a-tapping and itching to dance.

Blazing horn arrangements plus strong vocal choruses enliven the tune no end. Crespo is far more traditional in his arrangements compared to the disco/R&B/hip-hop flavours of Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin.

But having said that, there is a techno remix of Suavemente on the album.

There are tonnes of uptempo tunes here and the energetic arrangements will liven up your day no end.

If you have any liking for Latin music - salsa and merengue in particular - it's a great listen. And if you happen to actually dance these styles, this album is just perfect to practise to.

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