Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
When Soraya won the 2004 Latin Grammy Award for best singer/songwriter album, she was caught off guard.
The artist was up against some of Latin music's most venerable songwriters, including Joan Manuel Serrat, Joan Sebastian and Leon Giecco. But Soraya prevailed with her self-titled album, which was released on EMI Latin after her much publicized recovery from breast cancer.
"I was incredibly surprised," Soraya says six months later, speaking at Miami's Crescent Moon Studios, where she recorded her new album, "El Otro Lado de Mi." The new set, due March 1 on EMI Latin, showcases a different side of Soraya, one more in sync with the image of a politically minded Latin singer/songwriter.
"This album is a progression," she says of the harder-rocking project. "When something happens to people, something traumatic happens in your life, you go one of two ways. You either get all down, or you go, 'I'm going to do what I want to do.' And that's what happened with this record."
"Soraya" has sold 38,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and climbed to No. 25 on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart. The single "Solo Por Ti" peaked at No. 18 on the Hot Latin Tracks list in October 2003.
While its sales weren't strong, "Soraya" served as a comeback for the singer, whose last album for her previous label, Universal, had gone largely unnoticed because her illness coincided with its release. Then she became a prominent figure on the benefit circuit, as a spokeswoman for the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
"There are few artists who, like Soraya, have permanently flirted with success, lightly touching it without fully embracing it," says Manolo Diaz, who now heads EMI Spain but was previously head of PolyGram and then Universal Music Latin America. Diaz signed Soraya to her first major-label deal with PolyGram in the late 1990s.
"This rare type of artist usually lasts for a long time because they never bore you," Diaz adds. "But after listening to Soraya's new album, I'm afraid the relationship between her and success will end in a wedding. It's a formidable album."
Soraya shares production credits with Sebastian Krys (Carlos Vives, Gloria Estefan, Obie Bermudez). The album includes first single, "Llevame," which she describes as "totally in your face and very aggressive," as well as the romantic, personal pop tracks for which Soraya is known, and features distinctly Colombian elements in the instrumentation. It also includes two socially conscious tracks, the result of working with various musicians in Soraya's native Colombia.
Most notable is "Alma de la Calle," named after the pen name of Maria Amparo Amaya, a poet who shines shoes on the streets of Bogota.
Soraya met Amaya after reading an article about her in Miami's Spanish-language daily paper El Nuevo Herald.
Moved by the story of a woman who had won a national poetry contest but toiled on the streets without recognition, Soraya called the reporter who wrote the article. "I told him, 'I'm going to Colombia. Help me meet this woman,'" Soraya says. Originally, she notes, her plan was to find Amaya and play a song she had written for her.
Now Soraya is working with Colombian authorities to help Amaya fulfill a lifelong dream of building a library for the community. The Amaya track appears on Soraya's new album, and it features the poet reciting her own work.
Excerpted from the Feb. 19, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers .
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