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Ednita Nazario Comes Full Circle Rosa The Riveter
Ednita Nazario Comes Full Circle
By JUAN CARLOS PEREZ RODRIGUEZ
Special to The Herald
October 11, 2004
In a Tito Puente tribute featuring memorable performances from various stars, Ednita Nazario raises the Jackie Gleason Theater's temperature by 10 degrees with her intense interpretations of the classics ¿Qué te pedí? (What Did I Ask You?) and La Tirana (The Tyrant).
A fantastic pop-rock singer, Nazario in the 1970s and 1980s was earning broad and consistent popularity throughout Latin America, but she lost that momentum in the 1990s when she signed with EMI Latin and the label decided to narrow her promotional activities primarily to her native Puerto Rico and U.S. Puerto Rican communities.
In late 2000, she signed with Sony, seeking a label that would invest in her international career, help her re-establish a presence in places such as Mexico and Argentina, and take her to new markets, such as Spain.
And yet, on the night of Oct. 12, 2003, as she belts out her pair of songs at the Puente tribute, Nazario is almost three years into her Sony contract and, at least to outsiders, little appears to be happening to push her to new markets.
Nazario releases Por ti (For You), her fourth album for Sony, and it sends shock waves throughout the Latin music industry by debuting at the top of Billboard's Top Latin Albums chart, a rare feat aided by what that music industry magazine calls ''disproportionate'' sales in Puerto Rico, where she is an idol.
Por ti offers 10 powerful pop-rock songs that deal mostly about love and showcase Nazario's wide range, sublime tone, eye-popping vocal control, exquisite phrasing and emotional depth.
As 2003 ends, expectations soar for Por ti. Will Nazario's desire to broaden her fan base finally materialize? Who knows? With the music industry limping from soft sales and piracy, labels are conservative about promotion budgets.
Due to these reasons, and to the Sept. 11 attacks, her first album for Sony, Sin límite (No Limits), released in February 2001, didn't receive the broad international push Nazario had hoped for it. Would Por ti face the same fate?
Sitting at a sidewalk table of an Ocean Drive restaurant, Nazario explains why she's big on patience. ''I think hurry can be a double-edged sword. I'd rather go slowly but surely. I want to open up new spaces and push forward, but I'm not in a rush,'' the warm and highly articulate singer says as the sun sets over the beach.
By January, Por ti has sold over 100,000 copies in the United States and Puerto Rico. The promotional plan for it, Nazario says joyfully, is indeed broad and comprehensive. It includes visits to Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Spain and several big U.S. cities.
''I take it one step at a time. I'm enjoying what's happening and I'm working hard to make everything coherent with the expectations that exist. But I can't become obsessed with these business issues because I need to focus my energy on the creative, artistic side,'' says Nazario, who good-naturedly declines to give her age (probably late 40s).
For Nazario, whose career began when she was a child in the 1960s and features millions of records sold and multiple gold and platinum certifications, finding success beyond Puerto Rico isn't something new.
She had been much more active internationally in the 1970s and 1980s, regularly traveling to places such as Mexico, Argentina and Venezuela and even performing for five seasons in Monaco at the Monte Carlo Casino and the Sporting Club. (In Monaco she once gave a Command Performance at the request of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace.)
Her undeniable talent also has been recognized regularly outside of Puerto Rico. Her Acústico album, which Sony released in 2002 after Sin límite, was nominated for a Latin Grammy. None other than Paul Simon cast her in his 1998 Broadway musical The Capeman and for her role Nazario earned a Drama Desk nomination in the Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical category.
The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers honors her with its prestigious Latin Heritage Award, whose past winners include Celia Cruz, José Feliciano and Arturo Sandoval. She also sells out four shows at the Coliseo Roberto Clemente, an arena in San Juan with capacity for about 10,000.
In April, Por ti wins the Billboard Latin Music award in the Latin Pop Album-Female category.
On the phone from her home in Puerto Rico one day after arriving from a promotional visit to Argentina and Chile, Nazario is ecstatic. ''Por ti has a sophisticated and broad promotional plan, which is in line with what I've been looking for, and Sony is making it happen,'' she says.
Por ti has sold about 185,000 copies in the United States and Puerto Rico. This weekend she will give three more concerts at the Roberto Clemente arena, two of which were at press time sold out. On June 29, her tour stops at New York City's Carnegie Hall, her debut in that venue. The tour also includes the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles.
On July 3, she is at Miami's Jackie Gleason Theater, where back in October she melted hearts in the Puente Tribute. Her last solo concert in Miami was long enough ago that Nazario can't recall exactly the date. ''I think it was about 10 years ago,'' she says.
Never mind. What's for sure is that this time around, the stage will be all hers. ''I approach singing from the inside out. I metabolize the song. I make it circulate through all my veins. Then I can sing it. If it doesn't give me goose bumps, I can't sing it,'' she says.
To the person in charge of the Jackie Gleason Theater's thermostat: Beware.
Rosa The Riveter
Latin Singer Robi Rosa Vows To Stay True To Inner Voice
By Nekesa Mumbi Moody
June 17, 2004
Robi "Draco" Rosa has been on the music scene for two decades, first as a member of the Puerto Rican teen dream group Menudo, then as a producer and songwriter for Ricky Martin and others.
Yet when it came to his own projects, the spotlight has eluded the man who wrote Livin' La Vida Loca. Edgy, avant-garde and radio unfriendly, his rock-infused solo outings have garnered little more than critical acclaim -- partly due to Rosa's own design.
"I don't go there. It's a bad investment for me. I get no return from trying to be up ahead of things, to see if I can try and manipulate," he says. "I don't work like, `Go in this direction,' or `Let's listen to so and so.' I don't strive to be a certain way."
For years, Rosa has refused to alter his work to reach the mainstream audience. He even hates to alter his look -- the heavily tattooed singer grimaces at advice to shave off his beard to be more marketable. "There's more opportunity when you're clean shaven," he admits reluctantly.
But his latest work, Mad Love, may finally give Rosa some commercial success to go with the artistic praise.
The 33-year-old's second English-language album (and fifth overall) may be his most accessible yet -- a romantic, brooding disc that he says was influenced by Miles Davis but is more than a little reminiscent of Sting. He may try out some of that material Saturday at Barton G's trendy new boite on Collins Avenue in SoBe.
"I think that this album has just enough commercial appeal that it would grab a very big audience," says producer-songwriter Walter Afanasieff, a hit maker for artists ranging from Celine Dion to Mariah Carey, who collaborated on the Mad Love album. "It's not mediocrity, it's not redundant."
While Rosa claims he didn't craft his record for pop hits, if the result gets him to a wider audience, that's OK by him.
"I felt that maybe I would have a chance to go around the world with Mad Love, Rosa says during breakfast at a posh Beverly Hills hotel, a few minutes from his home. "If I can do that, it's exciting."
It's not as if Rosa's music hasn't traveled around the world before.
The budding New York-born musician became a world sensation before he was a teen, when he moved to Puerto Rico and his uncle convinced him to audition for the group Menudo -- a bubble-gum teen pop band that relied more on pinup looks than music.
The group's appeal grew beyond Spanish-language markets, and Rosa's chiseled, modellike face was out front.
During that time, Rosa began to write his first songs. But when he wasn't able to contribute musically to the group, he bolted.
For some of his fans, the path he took may have seemed incongruous with his previous persona. After starring in the movie Salsa in 1988 with future wife, Angela Alvarado, he created the hard-rocking group Maggie's Dream. In 1990 the band released its self-titled debut, with Rosa as lead singer and guitarist.
Though a hit critically, the band went nowhere. Not only was there friction in the group, but Rosa also admits it was a turbulent, wild time.
"The only negative really was I was out of my mind back then -- having a good time, young and crazy, whatever you call it," he says. "It just took me a minute to get there and know where to put my energies."
So he started working on his on solo projects. His first album, the Spanish-language rock album Frio, was released in 1994. But its lack of success led him to start exploring other musical projects, including songwriting for other Latin stars, such as Julio Iglesias.
"It was never my goal to take on that career. I fell into it. I got a phone call one day, sort of change the course. My son was just born, I needed some work, and I got the phone call," says Rosa, who has two young boys. "That just kept slipping into a bigger and bigger thing, so I ran with it."
Ricky Martin's success gave him plenty to run with. Rosa penned the song that would turn Martin from a Latin star to a world sensation -- the 1999 smash Livin' La Vida Loca. He also wrote She Bangs and other hits for the singer.
Martin's crossover success helped create a Latin music boom and made Rosa one of the most sought-after songwriters. But the more his popularity grew for writing hits, the more disenchanted Rosa became.
"There wasn't any passion, and when there's no passion, there's no love -- it's like a relationship. You're going to run yourself into the ground," he said. "It wasn't good for me."
So once again, he poured his attention into his own projects. Besides working on solo albums (the Spanish-language Libertad del Alma was released in 2001), he built his own company, Phantom Vox, which incorporates his studios of the same name, art projects and artist management.
Rosa's passion is evident when he talks -- he lights up when the conversation revolves around his music, and deflects questions or gives short shrift about other topics, such as the Latin pop boom and bust.
He's also not easily satisfied. That was clear at a recent showcase in New York City. Twice, Rosa stopped the show and became testy with band members because he was unsatisfied with the sound, though the problem was probably unrecognizable to the crowd.
"It's very hard to please Robi. He doesn't like everything and everyone," says Afanasieff. "[But] he's one of those who will inherit the earth."
Still, Rosa insists he's doesn't want the world -- just the opportunity for more people to hear his songs.
"What is the spotlight? I don't know what that means," he replies when asked if he's ready step back into it. "I do know I'd like to go around the world and share the music."