- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2000

Marc Anthony, the salsa-superstar-turned-mainstream- pop-sensation, has a message for anyone who regards 1999 as the year Latin music finally exploded as a popular idiom in this country:
"There is no such thing as a Latin music explosion in America, folks," Mr. Anthony says, articulating each word like a series of crisp accents on a conga drum.
"There is nothing out there [on the mainstream pop charts] that represents Latin music in any way, shape or form. Maybe there are a few Latin artists making headway on the charts, but I haven't heard them doing Latin music."
Mr. Anthony, 31, is well-aware that record companies, radio stations and various publications have hailed Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez for purportedly bringing Latin music to this country's English-speaking pop audience. (Mr. Anthony's "I Need to Know" competed for honors as best male pop vocal performance against Mr. Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca" at the recent Grammy Awards in Los Angeles; Sting won for "Brand New Day.")
Mr. Anthony also knows that Spanish crooner Enrique Iglesias signed a lucrative album deal to record in English, as did Mr. Anthony himself. (His contract with Sony Records is worth a reported $30 million).
Still, he maintains that a handful of Latin-bred artists performing mostly formulaic pop songs in English does not represent a Latin music movement, let alone an explosion.
"It's being sold as such, but I've traveled the entire world spreading the message that it's not," Mr. Anthony says.
"Record companies will sell it any way they can. And if they and the media tag it that way, well, it's a lazy way of marketing something. If anybody did any research, they'd know there's no such thing as Latin music being widely accepted [in the United States]."
The son of musically active Puerto Rican parents, Mr. Anthony (real name: Marco Antonio Muiz) was born and raised in New York's Spanish Harlem. He grew up absorbing salsa, merengue, cumbia and other rhythmically infectious styles as well as Motown oldies, disco, rap, rock and pop. (He cites Jimi Hendrix, Journey and ahem Air Supply as three of his favorites.)
Today, Mr. Anthony is one of a small but growing number of Latin music stars to achieve major crossover success by recording in English and by turning from Latin music to the mainstream pop sound, as contained on his self-titled 1999 album and the hit single "I Need to Know."
However, unlike Mr. Martin and Miss Lopez (whom Mr. Anthony used to date), he does not feel comfortable playing up his Latin heritage while sticking to a slick pop approach that has only superficial Latin flavor. Mr. Anthony, the biggest-selling salsa artist in the world in recent years, also is the only major Latin star to acknowledge readily the confusion created by those who market pop in Latin-music clothing.
"There's a huge misconception… . Salsa has such a special significance. To commercialize it to make money and to think: 'Wow, I could tap into a market' forget it," Mr. Anthony says, his voice rising.
"It's a very commercial decision to sing salsa in English, and it's not called for. Salsa is well-represented by the people doing it, and it needs to stay in its purest form. I won't contribute to or perpetuate that homogenization. I won't change salsa in any way."
Does Mr. Anthony regard his growing pop success, which includes a recent HBO TV concert special, as a vehicle to introduce new audiences to the joys of salsa?
"That is not my mission, to endear people to salsa via pop," he replies. "But if it's a direct result of doing hard work, that's cool. There is a lot of really good music out there not just mine really rich music, from Brazil, Senegal, Iran, everywhere. If I can help increase people's interest in music in general, then fine, I'm all for that."
Mr. Anthony's own interest in music began when he joined in his family's living-room sing-alongs at age 3.
Not long after he became a teen-ager, he was earning money singing jingles for radio and TV commercials. At 15, he went on tour as, of all things, a water boy with veteran salsa vocal star Ruben Blades, whose manager also represented the aspiring teen-age singer.
"Ruben showed me, by example, that nothing was impossible movies, musicals, hit records, Grammy Awards," says Mr. Anthony, a 1999 Grammy winner who in 1998 co-starred with Mr. Blades in "The Capeman," Paul Simon's ill-fated Broadway musical.
A short while later, Mr. Anthony became professionally involved with the top-selling Latin teen pop group Menudo, whose lineup then included a fresh-faced young Puerto Rican by the name of Ricky Martin.
"I wrote three songs on one of Menudo's albums and ended up going on tour with them," Mr. Anthony recalls. "They asked me to sing background vocals, so I'd sing background vocals, live, from the back of an 18-wheeler truck while they danced on stage."
Were Menudo's microphones turned on? Or was the group lip-syncing while its members danced?
Mr. Anthony offered a diplomatic response: "Their microphones were on, but they were on very low [volume]," he says. "I had four microphones. Why? So that I'd sound like four people."
By 1990, Mr. Anthony was performing, in English, at various New York dance clubs. His specialty was house music, a spare, minimalist dance style in which he sang live over pre-recorded backing tapes. He also provided background vocals for the band the Little Rascals before signing a solo record deal with Atlantic Records, which released his only English-language album before last year's "Marc Anthony."
That album, 1991's dance- and hip-hop-oriented "When the Night Is Over," was re-released recently. It features cameos by Latin-jazz legends Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri. Mr. Puente later had Mr. Anthony serve as an opening act for his 1992 concert at New York's Madison Square Garden.
Mr. Anthony experienced a musical epiphany the next year, when he heard Mexican vocal star Juan Gabriel's recording of "Hasta Que Te Conoci" ("Until I Met You"). He quickly recorded his own version. It became the first of many Spanish-language hits by the supple-voiced singer, who last year won a Grammy Award for best tropical Latin performance for his album "Contra La Corriente" ("Against the Current").
"I was born and raised in New York City, and I have all kinds of musical influences," he says. "It's only been in the past seven to eight years that I've been doing salsa music… . Thirty years from now, I just want to find myself being like that song 'My Way' I did it, I saw a lot, I lived a lot, and I leave behind a body of work I'm proud of and had fun doing. And that it was all about the music and for the right reasons."

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