By Ernesto Lechner
More than a year after Latin music took the American mainstream by storm, a question lingers: Is this a fad that will fizzle as suddenly as it was embraced, or will Latin sounds dominate for years to come?
Although most interested parties will argue that Latin music is here to stay, skeptics wonder whether other artists will be able to sustain the level of excitement generated by pop superstar Ricky Martin.
"Actually, it's a little bit of both," offers Aníbal Kerpel, co-producer of seminal Latin rock records by Café Tacuba, Molotov, and Julieta Venegas and one of the genre's most influential insiders. "Whenever you have a success as huge as Ricky Martin's, there's an element of fad about it. Still, fads leave their sequels behind them. I'm sure there will be a backlash to this whole Latino thing. But at the end of the day, our music will have gained territory."
Last year's explosion started with a momentous appearance by Mr. Martin at the 1999 Grammy Awards telecast. His performance of the hit single "The Cup of Life" showcased the kind of infectious party mood and passionate energy commonly associated with Hispanic culture. The singer was rewarded with a standing ovation, and viewers nationwide realized that a powerful musical force was about to blossom.
Mr. Martin's first English-language album subsequently became the hit record of the year, bolstered by the ubiquitous single "Livin' La Vida Loca." It was as if the singer had opened the floodgates for a new generation of bilingual superstars. Soon, Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias, and Marc Anthony followed suit with hugely successful collections.
Not surprisingly, the last year has seen almost every major U.S. label as well as countless independents releasing Hispanic-related products.
And yet, the future of most of these ventures appears uncertain at best. At the time of this writing, a quick look at the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts reveals a significant Hispanic presence in the top 10. Santana occupies both the first and 23rd spots with songs culled from the 12-times-platinum and multiple-Grammy-winning album Supernatural. The number 2 place belongs to Marc Anthony's "You Sang To Me," whereas Enrique Iglesias and his "Be With You" can be found at number 6.
These highly successful artists make music that cannot be characterized as traditionally Latin, however. Since its inception, Santana has been considered an American band, closer in spirit to Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis than to Tito Puente. And both Mr. Anthony and Mr. Iglesias favor a brand of pop that was invented and perfected by composers and singers from the United States.
Many observers insist that a Hispanic last name and a couple of congas thrown into the mix do not make a Latin record. This general sense of confusion also can be seen in the specific subgenres that record companies are ready to support.
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