Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
In a crowded market of new DVD releases, Ricardo Arjona's "Solo" stands out.
Released Nov. 23 as a CD/DVD combo, "Solo" (Sony BMG) is a highly personal portrait of Arjona that can best be described as an interactive biopic.
"People are used to DVDs that are five videoclips and a guy sitting on a chair and that's it," says Arjona, speaking over coffee at a Miami hotel. "In this case, the DVD carried the weight. It's the work of two years, where there was huge effort and where each idea was crazier than the next."
The CD companion, also titled "Solo," includes many of Arjona's greatest hits, such as "Mujeres," "Soledad" and "Si El Norte Fuera Sur," as well as virtually unknown tracks that were personal landmarks for Arjona.
Among them is the current single, "Porqué Es Tan Cruel el Amor," which Arjona originally wrote when he was 17. The track is No. 11 on Billboard's Hot Latin Tracks list this week. Like all the songs on the CD, "Porqué Es Tan Cruel el Amor" has been re-recorded in sparse, elegant arrangements played only with acoustic instruments.
"They are the most important songs in my career, dressed with very little clothing," says Arjona, who asked musicians who have been key to his career -- such as pianist Miguel Nunez and guitarist Junior Cabral -- to record with him. "But the real weight of this project, even though I'm convinced about the album, is what's on the DVD."
The DVD is surprisingly intimate for an artist who, despite his fame, is notoriously private.
On "Solo," Arjona not only opens up his home and introduces his children to the camera, he also takes the audience to his native Guatemala to visit his elementary school, his university and even the home where he was born.
There are stories of inspiration, tales of hard knocks and testimonials from a varied cast of characters, from Ricky Martin to Rigoberta Menchu.
While the obvious buyer for the DVD is the avid Arjona fan, the singer/songwriter says he believes film buffs will also be interested because it breaks the stereotype of the normal musical DVD in a CD package.
"Solo" was conceived and executed by Arjona on his own. When he took it to Sony, the label embraced it and suggested recording the companion CD. It was the label that suggested "Porqué Es Tan Cruel el Amor" as a single even though the song was written almost 20 years ago.
"It was the first song I ever wrote ... It's very innocent, very fresh," says Arjona, who was tempted to change the lyrics for the new version but decided to leave his teenage thoughts intact.
In leaving things exactly as they were, Arjona is being faithful to his project, which documents the good along with the bad.
One of the topics touched upon, for example, was his failure to get a record deal. Sony Mexico rejected him several times before signing him. Afterward, Arjona's socially conscious lyrics propelled his albums up the charts.
Looking at the current state of the business, Arjona sees a connection.
"Record labels are realizing that the only way to sell albums is with excited people. That means those who make the albums and those who buy them," he says. "And for people to be terribly excited about an album, the person who made it had to be terribly excited as well. Now in Latin America, each day we see [fewer] pretty faces and more people who have something to say."
Excerpted from the Dec. 4, 2004, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.
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