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Torruellas Shines As Polished Showman In Plena World…The Masterful Marketing Of Manuel's `Serenata', Feliz Keeps Playing

Torruellas Shines As Polished Showman In Plena World

His performance feels like wildly festive party

Special to the Journal Sentinel

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

December 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

Angel Luis Torruellas is perpetual motion personified.

After more than 50 years in the music business and more than 132 albums, he stills lights the plena world on fire.

Torruellas, a native of Puerto Rico, gave a two-hour show Friday evening at the Latino Arts Auditorium at the United Community Center. Performing without an intermission, he sang from the stage, strolled and danced in the aisles, at times bending at the waist and leaning into the seats to sing directly to an audience member.

He has been called a crooner and compared to Frank Sinatra, but that description limits him. He is a consummate showman.

Torruellas is electric onstage, constantly communicating with the audience and gladly turning over the spotlight to let others shine.

He is not just the headliner, he is hosting a wildly festive party that finds performers and audience members dancing together in the aisles.

Torruellas was backed by cuatro guitarist Orlando Laureano and the Chicago-based plena and bomba ensemble AfriCaribe.

Laureano plays with the improvisatory freedom of a jazz soloist and the folk music sensibilities of someone rooted in traditional music. His solos can be tender or wild, mixing salty harmonies into the call-and-response style of the plena and bomba music.

AfriCaribe is a troupe of six female singer-dancers and four male drummers. The women, dressed in traditional floor-length dresses with ruffled petticoats beneath them, dance using their skirts as a prop. The skirts take on a life of their own as the women mix intricate foot and arm work.

The drums, barrel-shaped instruments for the bomba and hand- held, tambourine-like instruments for the plena are the heart and soul of this music. The tunes are all built on compelling rhythms that percolate insistently throughout the music.

The drummers of AfriCaribe are a tight, fiery ensemble. They play with a fascinating mix of expressive freedom and strict rhythm, sweeping the audience along with unabated energy and grinning personas.

The Masterful Marketing Of Manuel's `Serenata', Feliz Keeps Playing

LEILA COBO; Billboard

BPI Entertainment News Wire

December 15, 2003
Copyright © 2003 BPI Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.

The masterful marketing of Manuel's `Serenata'

What drove the high debut of "Serenata," the new album by Puerto Rican merenguero Manny Manuel?

Management and label execs at Universal Music Latino attribute the album's No. 11 placement on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart last week to a well-timed TV special.

"Serenata," an album of 12 bolero standards on which Manuel is accompanied by a traditional trio, spawned a TV special of the same name. It aired Nov. 27 on Univision Puerto Rico, two days after the album's release.

"Two days after that special, we had no albums left in stores," says Walter Kolm, senior vice president of marketing/talent for Universal Music Latino.

Initial shipment of "Serenata" was 30,000 copies. But Kolm says Universal had banked on the album's success and had enough copies on hand to ship out immediately. Indeed, the album rose to No. 9 on the chart this week. To date, Kolm says ship-out of "Serenata" is 82,000 copies.

"Serenata," the special, was conceived by Manuel's manager, Angelo Medina, formerly Ricky Martin's manager. It was filmed Nov. 20 in front of an audience that included winners of a contest sponsored by Univision, radio station Sistema 102, daily El Nuevo Dia and retailer La Gran Discoteca.

The first 200 fans who brought in a cover of El Nuevo Dia and reserved their copy of "Serenata" at La Gran Discoteca got free tickets to the show.

The publicity, plus viewership of the special, propelled sales.

FELIZ KEEPS PLAYING: A recent survey by ASCAP indicated that "Feliz Navidad" is one of the most-performed Spanish-language holiday songs, based on performance data for the first three years of the 21st century.

The bilingual classic, penned by Jose Feliciano, is No. 14 on ASCAP's top 25 holiday song list, ahead of classics like "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "Frosty the Snowman."

"I wrote it bilingually so radio stations couldn't say, `We can't play it because it's in Spanish,' or Spanish stations couldn't say, `We can't play it because it's in English," Feliciano recalls.

"The song was ahead of its time, but I didn't know that," Feliciano adds. "When you write things, you don't realize the impact they may have. And that's what happened with `Feliz Navidad.' "

"Feliz Navidad" was written in less than five minutes in the summer of 1970, while Feliciano was recording a Christmas album. He says he used the traditional Puerto Rican cuatro to give it authentic flavor.

Today, the song is a Christmas standard used in commercials for Papa John's Pizza and the Discover Card.

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