Pérez Takes Traditional Sounds To The Street

For some, adding a reggaetón sound to their music would be an attempt to court latest popular trend. For Yolanda Pérez, the mixture is simply part of her persona. "Reggaetón is just an

Yolanda Pérez is not the first bilingual, bicultural artist to blend traditional Mexican with urban American sounds.

But Pérez, 22, may have an edge over her competitors. Unlike most of her counterparts, she is female and -- judging by past success on radio -- she sings about topics her contemporaries want to hear.

Counting on that youth appeal, Pérez is pushing her genre mix one step further by adding not only hip-hop but also reggaetón to her banda.

"Esto Es Amor," due Nov. 1 on Fonovisa Records, leads off with the single "Cómo Quieras, Cuando Quieras," a reggaetón/banda blend featuring Pérez trading verses with reggaetón songstress Adassa.

The contrast is striking, because banda is a traditional genre played only with acoustic instruments, predominantly brass. The bass line is played by the tuba, which in Pérez's banda/reggaetón mix also takes over the distinctive reggaetón bass line.

"We were looking for a new sound," Pérez says. "We thought it'd be a good idea because of how the fans like to listen to both styles of music."

Pérez readily admits that she goes "whichever way the fans pull me" because she embodies her fans.

Born in Los Angeles to Mexican parents (who hail from banda music hotbed Zacatecas), Pérez grew up listening only to music in Spanish by the likes of ranchero stars Graciela Beltrán, Pepe Aguilar and Ana Bárbara.

"I didn't think about it, but a lot of my friends didn't listen to what I listened to," she says. That was the case even when she started singing banda professionally, when she was only 11 years old.

Things changed, she says, when she went to high school and sought out friends who knew nothing about her nascent fame.

"I started hanging out with people who didn't know me, who didn't know that I sang, and that's when [my music] turned around."

In 2003, Pérez inked with Fonovisa and released "Déjenme Llorar," which peaked at No. 29 on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart, driven largely by the single "Estoy Enamorada."

The hilarious track was a bilingual mishmash of banda and rap featuring an English-speaking Pérez verbally sparring with her old-fashioned, Spanish-speaking "dad" -- Los Angeles radio personality Don Cheto of KBUE -- about her dating choices. The song reached No. 7 on the Billboard regional Mexican airplay chart.

But promotion of Pérez's follow-up album, "Aquí Me Tienes," stalled after she got pregnant. Now, following the birth of her daughter, she is back with "Eso Es Amor," which includes a mixture of styles, with reggaetón on some tracks, hip-hop on others and banda as the dominant presence.

For Pérez, the mixture is simply part of her persona.

"Reggaetón is just an ingredient," she says. "I did it because it's one of the styles of music I like to listen to."

Excerpted from the Oct. 29, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.

For information about ordering a copy of the issue, click here.