“The fact that I have been able to make a living from what I am so passionate about is very meaningful to me,” the Puerto Rican superstar tells Billboard Español. “It’s very exciting to know that the award ceremony, which is a very important platform, decided to give me this recognition. It fills me with pride, and it is a sign of the effort of what I have wanted to represent in the salsa genre throughout my entire career.”
“I still can’t believe that we are already celebrating 30 years of my career! When I grew up in my hometown of Isabela I just wanted to sing,” he muses. To his loyal fan base, he is endearingly known as El Sonero de la Juventud (or the Singer of Youths).
Widely recognized as a true sonero since his 1993 debut Justo A Tiempo, the Latin music icon helped globalize salsa romántica while boldly continuing to update the tropical formula for more modern times, as exemplified on his latest album. On his 19th conceptual release, 2022’s Lado A Lado B, Manuelle embraces his two trademark shades: his traditional salsa mastery and his tropical-charged fusions, where he embraces contemporary currents.
“For me it was important to capture in this album what have been my two facets throughout my career. Taking the risk of creating new sounds without abandoning the salsa genre, is one of the main reasons why I have been able to stay current and has allowed me to reach new generations,” he explains of the set, which includes features with urbano luminaries Miky Woodz and Farina, but also salsa traditionalists such as Marvin Santiago and La India.
Four-time winner of Premio Lo Nuestro awards, this year the celebrated musician is nominated in three tropical music categories: artist of the year, album of the year (Lado A Lado B) and collaboration of the year for “Vamo’ A Ver Si El Gas Pela,” featuring Miky Woodz and Marvin Santiago.
The star was born 54 years ago in New York but grew up in Puerto Rico. He was studying finance and accounting when a friend of his encouraged him to take the stage during a Gilberto Santa Rosa concert, and the so-called Caballero de la Salsa was so impressed with his talent that two days later he called him to sponsor him.
Víctor Manuelle released his first album in 1993 via Sony, but it wasn’t until his eponymous third album (1996) when his star rose to global prominence. In the ’90s, he helped usher in the salsa romántica boom — which exploded in New York City to a great extend — along with genre peers like Marc Anthony and La India. During this era, the boricua singer released timeless hits such as “Inconfundible,” “Pero Dile,” and “Que Habría Sido De Mi.” These and dozens more that followed solidified the salsa star as a Billboard chart-topping mainstay, to date.
From the 19 albums he has released so far, the salsa hitmaker managed to top the Tropical Albums chart 12 times — his seminal album Travesía (2004) cozied up in the top slot for nine consecutive weeks, and Decición Unámine (2006) remained there for seven. He also peaked the Tropical Airplay chart 29 times at No. 1.
Aside from tropical music-charting success, he entered the all-genre Billboard 200 10 times, and landed at the top of Latin Airplay three times, and twice in Hot Latin Songs for “Tengo Ganas” and “Si Tú Me Besas.” His 2022 release also appeared in both Tropical Albums and Tropical Airplay.
“Without a doubt, the greatest lessons this profession has taught me is that perseverance, effort and discipline always work,” he says of the secret to his lasting star power. “That combined with each individual’s talent makes way for success to come sooner or later. Anyone can apply this to his or her life, not just people from the industry.”
As per tradition for the Lifetime Achievement honorees, fans can anticipate seeing some of today’s biggest stars serenade Manuelle with his own hits at Premio Lo Nuestro. “The fact that artists from other genres and generations want to form part of [my] musical career is one of the greatest blessings that this profession can offer me,” he says.
The complete list of Premio Lo Nuestro nominations was announced Monday (Jan. 23), consisting of 192 artist nominees of diverse musical backgrounds across 39 categories. The ceremony will air live on Thursday, Feb. 23, at 7 p.m. ET via Univision; it will simulcast on Galavisión in the U.S. and Canal 5 in Mexico.
For 35 years, Premio Lo Nuestro has highlighted some of the best in Latin music. Previous Lifetime Achievement honorees include Gloria Trevi, Daddy Yankee, Intocable, Ricky Martin and Maná. The first prize was bestowed to Celia Cruz in 1990.
Víctor Manuelle plans to continue spreading the salsa gospel, and is plotting to tour the U.S. and Latin America this year.