Pires Extends Global Reach

Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com

The rise and rise of Alexandre Pires can be seen as a case study of many things:

• Breaking a new act in the U.S. Latin market.
• Successfully crossing over a Brazilian, Portuguese-speaking singer into the Spanish-language Latin market.
• Having a black Latin artist achieve great success by singing ballads, as opposed to tropical or dance music.

The second of those three accomplishments has not been achieved since Brazilian Roberto Carlos took the Latin world by storm in the 1970s. The third bears no recollection in recent memory.

"I'm a 27-year-old guy, and I do what I like -- which is making music," the soft-spoken Pires says of his sophomore Spanish effort, "Estrella Guia" (Guiding Star). The CD was released March 18 on BMG U.S. Latin.

"My parents are musicians; my mother sings, my father is a drummer. Today, I have the opportunity to do all these things," he continues. "My mom says, 'I can't believe my son performs in Mexico!' It's a reason for pride and love."

Such sentiments might seem a bit mushy if these achievements were not so unusual.

Prior to the release of his Spanish-language debut in 2000, Pires was a superstar in his native Brazil as the lead singer of So Pra Contrariar. BMG U.S. Latin managing director Adrian Posse says the group sold 13 million albums during Pires' tenure. The group is also the 35th-highest-selling act in the history of BMG worldwide.

That Pires would choose to leave such an exalted musical place to pursue a solo career in a different language and a different territory is rare in itself.

Successful Brazilian artists can -- and often do-make a profitable living simply by selling and touring domestically. They seldom have the time or inclination to deeply mine other markets.

Pires not only made the effort, but he succeeded: His self-titled debut album was a finalist in the best new artist category at last year's Billboard Latin Music Awards. This year, Pires was Billboard's Hot Latin Tracks artist of the year, thanks to three singles from that album.

Now, "Estrella Guia " is No. 23 on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart after nine weeks.

Pires' foray into the Latin market was not initially planned, according to his manager, Joca Ribeiro. But Pires caught the eye of several key people when he performed at the World Music Awards in Monaco in 1998. Following that performance, Pires was asked to record the song "Santo Santo" with Gloria Estefan, which would become a resounding hit. He also recorded one track in Spanish in a BMG homage to the late Jose Alfredo Jimenez.

More important, as an experiment, his So Pra Contrariar album was re-released with three tracks in Spanish. (The other So Pra Contrariar albums are all Portuguese-language.) According to Ribeiro, the newly edited disc sold 600,000 copies outside of Brazil.

But once Pires began recording in Spanish as a soloist, his band in Brazil ground to a halt. His brother Fernando was appointed lead singer of the group, enabling Pires to pursue his career abroad.

"Many acts don't leave Brazil not so much because of money, but because it's such a big country and touring takes so much time," Ribeiro says. "Brazilian acts are used to being treated like stars, and they don't want to start again. Yes, Alexandre made less money by spending time promoting abroad. But it was like a bet he made with himself."

Pires is hedging that bet with his original fans with the release of a Portuguese version of "Estrella Guia" in Brazil. The album, which features duets with Alejandro Sanz and Rosario, has a Brazilian sound. It is also far more experimental than his more traditional Spanish-language debut.

"It's an inventive album," Pires says. "I'm not saying the other album wasn't gorgeous, but this one is a very personal album. I had the opportunity to put in my musical essence, which is Brazilian. I am a Brazilian singer."

Excerpted from the June 7, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.

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