Salsa singer Gilberto Santa Rosa has a velvety, entreating voice that's made him an icon of the genre, with more than 20 albums under his belt, a successful-and vibrant-touring itinerary, a steady sales record and a string of radio hits that will keep him busy playing for years to come.
So it would've been easy to simply shift into neutral, release an album and let things run their course with help from Santa Rosa's longtime label, Sony Music Latin.
But Santa Rosa didn't get to be one of the few salsa artists still signed to a major label by resting on his laurels. In fact, his indefatigable search for variety within the relatively stringent ties of his genre is one of the main drivers of his continued success.
Santa Rosa was one of the first salseros to record his songs in ballad form and deliver all-ballad albums that were commercially successful. Now, with new album "Irrepetible" (Non-Repeatable), due June 29, Santa Rosa delivers an album composed mostly of duets with an eclectic cast of collaborators that includes icons Ruben Blades and Johnny Ventura, up-and-coming singer/songwriter Kany Garcia and Colombian vallenato singer/composer Felipe Pelaez, and Venezuelan folk/tropical group Guaco.
"As a singer, [the duets] enrich what I do," Santa Rosa says. "And this brings in a bigger and more diverse audience."
The album was intended to be an all-duets affair, but due to logistical and time considerations, the set was pared down to the featured collaborations-all of them with artists Santa Rosa is close to. It's a departure for the salsero, who has occasionally recorded duets but hasn't made them the centerpiece of an album.
It's also part of a plan to attract new fans.
"We're developing a strategy to grow this artist," says Carlos Perez, the former VP of promotion in charge of tropical music for Sony Music Latin, who now runs his own promotion and marketing company, 360 Group, and was hired by Sony to help coordinate Santa Rosa's release. "We want to reclaim places he hadn't visited in years and literally go city to city, shake hands, do promotion at a grass-roots level."
In the past year, Santa Rosa has already been expanding his range of movement. He recently brought in veteran manager/concert promoter Rafo Muniz, who was his manager years ago, to oversee his career. He also has an office in Puerto Rico with a full-time staff that runs his restaurant and nightclub in San Juan, Alquimia, and books his tours.
Santa Rosa will perform in Europe-including many new venues and cities for him-in June. Because this conflicts with the album release, Perez had him record key interviews for radio and TV shows that will air until Santa Rosa returns July 14. He will then begin promoting the album, centering on in-stores in key markets but also "in secondary cities where fans usually don't have the opportunity to see Gilberto," Perez says.
"We're also attacking radio stations that have a more youth-leaning listenership," Perez adds. "We've always centered on tropical. Now, we can skew more pop."
Still, the lead single, "Vivr Sin Ti," is a solo track that's classic Santa Rosa in its blend of hardcore salsa with a romantic message. It's No. 4 on Billboard's Tropical Songs chart after six weeks.
And in an exclusive deal with iTunes, those who buy the single will also receive a ballad version of the song.
"I feel I have to deliver fresh fare without straying too much from what I am," Santa Rosa says. "It's no secret that on this album we're trying to take the songs to many places. But it's still an album that's 95% salsa."