|The New Crossover Contender|
ULM: Hi! Is this Anthony or should I call you Romeo?
…And that was the beginning of my interview with the one and only, musically-acclaimed bachatero, Anthony Romeo Santos or as he charismatically put it, ROMEO. Over the past 10 years, Santos has been a key figure elevating the bachata genre to new heights with his iconic group, Aventura. They’ve won numerous awards and broke countless records including selling out Madison Square Garden in 2007, which Romeo cites as one of his greatest musical career achievements. In 2010, the New York quartet responsible for popularizing their brand of Dominican folk-pop, more commonly referred to as bachata, decided to take a break to pursue new solo projects. But not to worry, this by no way means they’re over! According to Romeo, “We never broke up”– putting rumors to rest, he reassured me a return for the hit-making group early in 2013. Despite fans lamenting Aventura’s decision to take time off, Romeo’s fans need not worry! This “break” has kept the Bronx native busier than ever. While focusing on his solo project, he took the time to give me the 411 on the new chapter in his career.
Before I get into details, here is a little background on the heartthrob…Anthony Santos was born on July 21, 1981 in the Boogie Down Bronx to a Dominican father and a Puerto Rican mother. He discovered his passion for songwriting at a young age. While most teenage boys were out chasing girls and shooting hoops, Romeo stayed home to create his first form of art, his poetry. His blossoming love affair with songwriting was only the beginning for the 13 year old. Romeo joined his local church choir with his cousin and future Aventura band member, Henry Santos. The two cousins would then meet brothers, Lenny and Max shortly after, thus creating the musical nucleus that is Aventura. A string of chart-topping hits, musical accolades, and of course screaming girls soon followed! In case ULM readers needed reminding, which I highly doubt since Aventura’s reputation and fame precedes them, be sure to check out my list of favorite Aventura tracks at the end of this article.
Growing up, Romeo idolized singers like Antony “El Mayimbe” Santos, Camilo Sesto, Manuel Alejandro, Juan Gabriel, Omar Alfano and of course, Juan Luis Guerra! When fans look at Romeo today, they see a charismatic and natural artist who exudes confidence and love! However, this wasn’t always the case. According to a reliable source, Romeo was a “shy boy” and afraid to show an ounce of emotion. Through his musical career and with the help of his fans and friends, Romeo managed to shed his skin and release the tiger within. Today, Romeo owns any stage he touches down on - his confidence, humor and an intense connection with his fans have propelled him to amazing levels of stardom. Now Romeo is ready to embark on his own aventura…
Romeo’s debut album, Formula – released November 8th- received rave reviews. Positive feedback came as no surprise considering the strong performance of his two singles, “You” and “Promise.” The album’s first single, “You” debuted at #1 on the Hot Latin and Tropical Songs chart. His follow up single and a personal favorite, “Promise” features a genius duet with R&B artist Usher, and it too peaked at number #1 on both charts. Romeo recalls feeling a certain amount of trepidation that the R&B megastar would find the idea of a collaboration “corny.” Boy was Mr. Santos wrong! The two recently performed their smash hit at the 2011 Latin Grammy’s to the amusement and delight of the award show’s guests and viewers at home. It goes without saying, Usher actually fell in love with the track and thought their collaboration was incredible – “Usher gave me hope and helped me build more confidence.”
So, what is Formula? “It’s 60% bachata and 40% everything else” says Romeo. The 30-year-old singer didn’t want to abandon his bachata roots, but at the same time he wished to add an eclectic mix of modern day R&B, hip hop and dance to capture new fans. The album’s English songs feature collaborations with Lil Wayne, Pitbull and Usher. The reaction to the project was not only outstanding, but a movement for the bachata genre. His fan base is no longer solely “Latino”, it is now universal - his music has the ability to unite a diverse crowd. Romeo entered the crossover world gracefully – an accomplishment considering that Aventura was largely ignored by English-language media during the earlier part of the group’s career.
Romeo explains that “every new project is like a new beginning”, during which all types of emotions run though his mind. Nonetheless, he was thrilled to share his new baby. When asked about his inspirations, he states women and relationships. Writing real experiences, sharing them and having people relate is what makes him such a hot commodity. He has the ability to paint vivid portraits of love, passion, anger, and jealousy through his words. He explains how his lyrics are real words from a loving or broken heart, words that listeners are afraid to express on their own. His music amplifies what hearts all over the world want to say, but are too afraid to express - Oh Romeo!
Romeo has paved the way for new comers such as Prince Royce and 24 Horas, who he applauds for keeping the genre “fresh and going”. The King of Bachata recognizes the idol he has become, but has no intention to step down from his throne. He wants to and most certainly should continue pushing the envelope as far as he can! Evidence for his ambition and dedication to raising his stock in the world of entertainment are ever so evident. The world recently discovered that Romeo will be on set filming a new ABC sitcom alongside Hollywood legend Will Smith. Romeo plays a Dominican-American from Washington Heights torn between his traditional roots and notions about what it means to be successful in America.
Being able to generate that cultural bond through his art is what Romeo wished to accomplish back when he was songwriting in Washington Heights. With a new aventura on the horizon, we certainly expect the best is yet to come. When I asked him what advice he would give YOU, the reader when it comes to making dreams come true, his humble answer was, “Perseverance, keep doing what you are doing – simply move forward”. ¡Siempre palante, mi gente!
Words by Samantha E. Vargas