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by Aneta Tadeusiak
The summer is nearly over, but the hot Latin spirit is still present in the air. After the huge success of Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez and the No. 1 "Mi Chico Latino" by UK's good ol' Geri Halliwell, the next one to stun Britain is Enrique Iglesias with his debut release, "Bailamos", from the "Wild Wild West" movie soundtrack.
However this phenomenon is not something completely new. It was the 1980s when Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine cast the Latino spell over the English-speaking audience with "Dr Beat". Many of us also remember Madonna's "La Isla Bonita", back in 1987, another example of a successful Spanish-sounding song. The early 1990s brought Gloria's colleague Jon Secada into the limelight with the romantic "Just Another Day".
But what is it about the Latin music that makes it so popular across other cultures? The melodic tunes, the atmosphere, the good-looking singers or maybe the exotic Latin lifestyle?
According to Enrique Iglesias, who has already sold more than 10 million records in South America, the trend isn't about the music itself, but about Latin people who usually are "very romantic and just love to have some fun, which reflects in their music".
Let's take a closer look at these artists. A prime example is Ricky Martin, a 28-year-old Puerto Rican whose "Livin' La Vida Loca" reached No. 1 in both the UK and US charts among other countries. A crazy life indeed, as Ricky started his musical career at the age of 12 in boy band Menudo, which soon became a million-selling act in Latin America.
Ambitious Ricky also became a TV star, playing a Latino lover in TV series "General Hospital", and actor on the Broadway musical, "Les Miserables", in 1995. But what matters today is his unquestionable talent as a performer who seems able to warm up even the most conservative audience with hits like "(Un, dos, tres) Maria" or the 1998 World Cup anthem, "The Cup Of Life".
Ricky's isn't the only story with aspirations beyond music. One of today's most fanciable and successful singers is actually one of the most fanciable and successful actresses in Hollywood as well. Her debut single, a very mature R&B track entitled "If You Had My Love", shot straight to No. 4 in the UK charts, while it stayed at the No. 1 spot of the US Billboard Hot 100 for several weeks.
Hailing from New York, Jennifer Lopez was brought up by Puerto Rican parents. At first she became a dancer, then slowly gained a strong position as an actress playing in movies like "Money Train", "Selena" or "Anaconda", before finally making her dream come true and becoming a self-confident singer.
Her album, "On The 6", includes work from respectable and experienced producers such as Emilio Estefan ("Let's Get Loud"), Rodney Jerkins ("If You Had My Love") and Sean "Puffy" Combs ("Feelin' So Good"). If her first single didn't touch you enough, then prepare yourself for "Waiting For Tonight", which combines Latin, dance and melodic disco tunes.
Jennifer's album suffered badly at the hands of the critics, provoking an almost disgusted reaction from some quarters. Apparently the fusion of music genres was inappropriate in the minds of music purists. But who really cares about that? Not many, as her record sales have been huge. As long as it's good music and people are having fun listening to "Latin soul", as she calls it, nothing is inappropriate.
Moving on, another female artist, whose second single reached No. 1 in the UK recently, is Miss Geri Halliwell. Her debut solo release failed to top the charts, even though the - somewhat unfair - battle between "Look At Me" and Boyzone's "You Needed Me", was thrilling. Having left the Ginger Spice mask behind her, Geri seems a lot happier and more natural. She says that her new album, "Schizophonic", is like an artistic purification of her soul.
During one of her early solo performances in London's Astoria club, Geri proved she's doing perfectly well on her own, giving the audience 30 minutes of the real Geri Halliwell. The one that most people seem to prefer over the cheeky Ginger with several layers of make-up.
After participating in the Latin caricature, "Spice Up Your Life", recorded with the Spice Girls, Geri made some better use of her Latin blood, as her mother is Spanish. The result - "Mi Chico Latino", one of this year's biggest summer hits. It's a hot Latin hit which may not be very ambitious, but guarantees some good fun.
The other factor responsible for the success of Latin music is that the songs contain "something a little bit erotic", as described by Enrique in one of his interviews. And he must surely be right, as all the Latin hits mentioned have a sexy feel to them. The sound of some words sung or spoken in Spanish are completely different, somehow more attractive. Gloria Estefan even prefers singing in Spanish, as she feels the language "evokes so much more passion".
Does it not sound better when Enrique sings "bailamos", or "te quiero, mi amor", than if it was just "let's dance, I love you, my love"? Can you imagine Ricky singing "She's livin' her crazy life" instead of "la vida loca"?
Latin music, whatever its ingredients, gives us, the listeners, this unique touch which makes it possible to feel the hot tempered, exciting Latin lifestyle, even if the whole thing is really just a myth.