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The Dallas Morning News

Salsa That Pops Latin Radio Makes Room For A Breezy New Sound


November 17, 2003
Copyright ©2003
The Dallas Morning News. All rights reserved.

Take a percussive, slightly syncopated rhythm - think salsa but without the blazing horns and busy beats - and mix in breezy, seductively catchy pop melodies with laid-back hooks that seep into your brain. Top it off with a smooth-voiced stylist.

You're listening to tropi-pop, the new hot sound on Latin radio.

Buoyed by breakthrough albums from Miami-based trio Bacilos and singer-songwriters Obie Bermudez and Gian Marco, the tropi-pop style continues to shuffle its way into the Latin music mainstream. The chart-topping success of Mr. Bermudez's "Antes," the first single from his second album, Confesiones, follows Bacilos' Latin Grammy-winning hit "Mi Primer Millon," which became the band's firstradio staple, and Mr. Marco's rise as an in-demand tunesmith and solo artist.

"You can call it the new salsa," says songwriter-producer Sergio George, who helped craft Bacilos' "Millon" and its accompanying CD, Caraluna.

Tropi-pop is updating an old style for a new group: young listeners.

"They don't feel like this is old, like it's their parents' thing," says Mr. George. "It sounds like something that they should be listening to. And at the same time it retains their Latin culture. They want to retain that culture but they want to hold on to something that's hip."

With the steady decline in radio airplay and CD sales of tropical music (namely salsa and merengue), tropi-pop keeps the traditions alive.

"That salsa market has gotten so small, but the rhythm and the music is still very rich," says Mr. George. "Those fusions are taking it to a place that it's never been taken before. Tropi-pop is a great word because it incorporates everything that we have today but it's not just one thing so it doesn't bore people."

The allure of tropi-pop is effortless, ingenious. The salsa and merengue rhythms are there, giving the songs a sturdy bottom beat that's instantly familiar to Latinos of all ages. Bold, percussion-heavy rhythms remain the cornerstone of Latin music's tropical genre. Incorporating pop melodies and hooks make the tunes sound fresh, of-the-moment.

"A big part of this is the poppified aspect," says Mr. George. "You still keep the salsa music angle, but it's very pop-influenced, which attracts the young people that are into Beyonce and Christina and all the new artists. It retains the culture but it has the pop sensibility they hear in a Madonna record."

A novel concept, for sure. Mr. Bermudez, whose debut album, 1998's all-salsa disc, Locales, stiffed commercially, calls the triumphant chart progress of "Antes" a "dream come true." The song spent three weeks at No. 1 in October, but its radio airplay remains so strong that a month later it still sits in the Top 3 of Billboard's Latin tracks chart. When asked for his take on tropi-pop's mass appeal, the 26-year-old Puerto Rican responds quickly.

"One word: simplicity," he says. "Simplicity always works. The songs are so simple, but yet deep. I try not to complicate myself when writing a song. 'Antes' ... anybody can understand that."

Mr. Bermudez lives in New York. His English has that Big Apple tone, but his Spanish comes straight from the island of his birth. As an artist, he's a product of the same multicultural landscape that begat tropi-pop.

"I was born in Puerto Rico so I grew up listening to Ruben Blades, El Gran Combo, salsa, merengue music," he explains. "My father was born in the U.S. and he had a Top 40 band and used to play the Beatles, stuff like that. I had the best of both worlds. I had the salsa and merengue and then I had the pop thing. In my own head, I put these two worlds together."

Mr. George, who will produce Gian Marco's upcoming album scheduled for a spring 2004 release, credits the success of tropi-pop to a cool, natural synergy between those making the music and those buying it.

"The production is being done by younger-type producers that have an American background but are also Latino and retain their culture," he says.

"The people that are creating it are coming from the same place that the kids are coming from. It's a different era. It's an Americanization of the music but while still retaining the culture. That's the future of where we are going."

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