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The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Merengue Queen Olga Tanon Dreams Of Popping Up In The Mainstream

by Dave Ferman

August 18, 2000
Copyright © 2000 The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. All Rights Reserved.

"Diva of Merengue?"

"Queen of Merengue?"

Olga Tanon says she would rather be known simply as a singer.

"I'm a singer who uses different rhythms and songs," says the Puerto Rico-born vocalist, who recently received a Latin Grammy nomination for Best Merengue Performance for her latest CD, Olga Viva, Viva Olga.

Indeed she is. Tanon, who filed for divorce late last year after less than a year of marriage to Detroit Tigers (and former Texas Rangers) outfielder Juan Gonzalez, has achieved enormous popularity. She has sold millions of CDs and sells out concerts in Latin America and the United States with a mixture of various rhythms, including merengue, salsa and boogaloo.

Growing up in Puerto Rico, Tanon, 33, first sang with Las Nenas de Ringo y Josie and then with the all-girl group, Chantell. She launched her solo career in 1991, first sticking to merengue but then adding cumbia, salsa and ballads. She speaks English hesitantly, and most of our interview was translated by her road manager, Ramon Muniz.

Her show, which can be seen on a video also called Olga Viva, Viva Olga, is at least partly pure pop (see if the dancers and her moves don't remind you of a Britney Spears show). But she also can do romance-themed salsa - such as the song Mi Eterno Amor Secreto - and aerobics-ready dance stuff such as Viva La Musica. Out in front of a 16-member band and four dancers, she spends much of the night dancing as well as singing.

She also does Ran Kan Kan, a tribute to the late Tito Puente; her version of the song was the last one done, she says, before he died earlier this year. She spoke with him at a parade in Puerto Rico in 1999.

"The last thing he told me was, 'I love what you're doing and I'm very proud of you,' " she says.

And while she's proud of her status within the merengue community, she points to the 700,000 copies sold of her 1996 CD Nuevos Senderos, a foray into pop that contained no merengue at all.

"I believe it's very rewarding," she says of her trips outside merengue. "When I make a recording with different rhythms and it becomes successful, it means I have accepted the challenge and people have accepted me as an artist."

Will she achieve pop stardom, a la Ricky Martin?

"When the moment comes, I will have been working hard on it," she says. "I'm learning more English. Ricky was very well-prepared for a crossover, and if it happens I want to do it well, with a lot of respect for the music and my people."

As if to prove this, at the end of the interview she bids adieu with "I promise you - I'm learning more English for next time!"

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