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More US-born Latin artists win fans in Spanglish

Associated Press Modified: April 26, 2012 at 8:46 am •  Published: April 26, 2012
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MIAMI (AP) — For years, Latin music acts typically had two routes to U.S. success — sing in English, or build a Latin fan base with Spanish-language tunes, then cross over to the English-language market.

Now a growing group of artists like Pitbull, Prince Royce and Romeo Santos are making it big by singing in Spanish and English — sometimes in the same song — and winning over both markets simultaneously. And unlike the majority of artists singing in Spanish in the past, these artists are homegrown; they were born in the continental United States and grew up speaking English.

Royce, born Geoffrey Royce Rojas, earned fame last year with a bilingual version of Ben E. King's classic "Stand by Me." The song has been covered by John Lennon, Otis Redding and even U2, but Royce set it to the beat of bachata, the native folk music of the Dominican Republic.

The 22-year-old son of Dominican parents grew up listening to Michael Jackson, Eminem, Shakira and bachata king Juan Luis Guerra, and his self-titled debut album, released in 2010, was a top seller in the United States, Puerto Rico and Chile. His latest album debuted at No. 1 on the Latin Billboard charts and debuted No. 16 overall.

"I don't sit around going 'Whoa, I'm a bilingual artist,' but there is this new wave where Latinos are catching a lot of interest in mainstream," Royce said. "It's cool. It encourages kids that even though they're born in the U.S., they do have this Latin culture they can use."

In the past, even U.S.-born artists like Marc Anthony gained fame singing mostly in Spanish before recording in English — or, like his soon to be ex-wife Jennifer Lopez, mostly in English before switching to Spanish. Still, most of the biggest Spanish-language artists who made it in the U.S. market were either from Puerto Rico, like Ricky Martin and more recently Wisin y Yandel, or Latin America, like Shakira (Puerto Rico is commonwealth of the United States).

Royce said he started with poetry in English, but a Spanish teacher encouraged him to pen lyrics in his parents' native language. His mother became his toughest critic.

"That was a way for me and her to connect," Royce said.

Leila Cobo, executive director of Latin content and programming for Billboard, said the big labels tried to market these kinds of bilingual U.S. artists in the past but got little traction. Yet with nearly 50 million Latinos in the United States, demographics are changing the game.

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