During his 25 years as a member of Los Bukis -- perhaps Mexico's best-known romantic <I>grupo</I> -- Marco Antonio Solis earned a reputation as a songwriter with a troubadour's knack for the vernacula
During his 25 years as a member of Los Bukis -- perhaps Mexico's best-known romantic grupo -- Marco Antonio Solis earned a reputation as a songwriter with a troubadour's knack for the vernacular and the poetic. It was on the strength of this reputation that Solis has been able not only to survive his 1995 departure from Los Bukis -- whose discs were routinely certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America -- but to maintain his stature as a soloist.
Now Solis' challenge is to move beyond his earlier efforts. In recent years, he has adopted a decidedly more international sound -- a gamble that paid off with his gold-certified 1999 Fonovisa album "Trozos de Mi Alma" (Pieces of My Soul), a Bebu Silvetti production that stylized Solis standards (many previously recorded by other artists) with Silvetti's trademark string arrangements. Now, Solis expects to repeat the feat with "Mas de Mi Alma" (More of My Soul), a collection of previously unreleased material due May 29.
"Many people still see me as 'el Buki,' " says the soft-spoken Solis. "The album 'Trozos de Mi Alma' was even nominated in some award shows as a regional Mexican album. It's been a struggle. That's why we're insisting on this sound, and, as a matter of fact, we're opening new markets."
Puerto Rico, for example, long seen as a no-man's-land when it comes to regional Mexican acts, has embraced Solis' new pop sound with zeal.
"Marco is an inch away from becoming an idol in Puerto Rico," says Fonovisa GM Gilberto Moreno, adding that "Mas de Mi Alma" will initially ship 600,000 copies in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. "We took the new single to Puerto Rican radio stations, and for the first time that I can recall, I had to beg programmers to hold off and not play it until we were ready to release it."
In Los Angeles, Solis' main market, the single "O Me Voy, O Te Vas" premiered during the highly rated morning show on KLVE 107.5 FM. By the afternoon, the song -- which debuted at No. 4 on Billboard's Hot Latin Tracks list last week and is in rotation on 39 stations nationwide, including three in Puerto Rico -- was a hit.
KLVE PD Carlos Alvarez has a 5 p.m. segment called "Hot Five at Five," which plays the five most-requested songs of the day. "You have no idea the deluge of people who called requesting that song," he says. "It just has all the elements to be an immediate, great hit."
Beyond that, however, Alvarez repeats what seems to be a mantra among those who've listened to "Mas de Mi Alma" in its entirety: "It's one of the few CDs you can take and listen to again and again and just not tire of it."
After 30 years in the business, Solis has found success not only as an artist, but also as a producer (Rocio Durcal, Laura Flores, Olga Tanon, among others) and songwriter. He has authored more chart-topping songs the Hot Latin Tracks chart than any other artist and has been Billboard's Latin songwriter of the year four times. Yet he says he felt constrained by the limits his regional style was imposing on his songs.
"I wanted to enrich the songs... take them to other countries as well, with more dignity. Because it was necessary to do so. Don't get me wrong. I'm very Mexican," adds Solis, who hasn't left his older repertoire behind. "But this music has no frontiers, and we shouldn't create them. In this industry it's very valuable to be international."
So, armed with his arsenal of songs, Solis turned to someone else to arrange and produce his material for the first time in his career. He chose Silvetti for his direct and efficient approach to work. But the thought that an artist of Solis' stature would give up production control was daunting, even for a veteran like Silvetti.
"I've always worked with singers and songwriters," Silvetti says. "But not with someone who had composed, produced, and arranged anything. It was a very big challenge for me."
Silvetti's approach was to incorporate most of Solis' suggestions and keep things far simpler than he does with other pop artists, in order not to alienate Solis' fan base. In the end, he says, Solis' was calling him "the tailor," because everything fit. Indeed, "Trozos" went on to sell more than any of Soli's previous albums and led to "Mas de Mi Alma," an album that takes things a step beyond by incorporating new rhythms and genres, including a Peruvian waltz and Venezuelan joropo.
"What's happened with Marco Antonio is similar to what happened to Luis Miguel with 'Primer Romance'," says Silvetti of the singer's first album of standard boleros. "Luis Miguel was selling to an important audience. When he recorded 'Romance,' he took over the entire market. Marco always sang to one audience. Now, thanks to string arrangements, he's accessible to a whole other audience."
Of course, it would be too simplistic to reduce Solis' success to the addition of a string section. Rather, Solis' acclaim is based on his songs: lovely, simple, well-crafted affairs of the heart that everyone can identify with.
"They are very direct," says Solis, who considers himself a composer first and a singer second. "It's perhaps the hardest thing. You can adorn the songs, but they have to be direct. When I write, it's as if I'm talking to myself or having a very intimate conversation."
And then there's the voice -- technically unremarkable, really, but intensely personal and devoid of the overwrought emoting of so many Latin balladeers. "I speak the songs more than sing them," explains Solis, who readily admits that there are better singers out there.
"If he says that, he's mistaken," Silvetti responds. "A great singer is someone who has expression. He opens his mouth and every word -- not every sentence, mind you -- every word acquires a meaning. We're talking about a man who's reached millions and millions of people with his voice. That's a great singer."