LOS ANGELES - "Singing 'The Cup of Life' at George Bush's inauguration is like playing the fiddle while Rome burns," said an angry Robi Draco Rosa who wrote the hit song and numerous other tracks for Martin, including the breakthrough smash "Livin' La Vida Loca". "This is a Betrayal of Everything That Every Puerto Rican Should Stand For."
"This is a very partisan act. This is a President who would have people in his cabinet who would obstruct the exercise of civil rights, human rights, consumer rights, the right to choose, the right to be free of gun violence and the right to a clean environment. This is a betrayal of everything that every Puerto Rican should stand for."
Robi Draco Rosa has received four Grammy nominations for his work as producer and songwriter for Ricky Martin. Spin Magazine named his last solo album one of the "Top 10 greatest rock en espanol records of all time", and Entertainment Weekly recently described him as a "Che Guevara-meets-Trent Reznor poet-punk."
Bio Of Robi "Draco" Rosa
There probably isn't a more fascinating character in this year's Latin pop explosion than Robi "Draco" Rosa. Rosa is the producer and songwriter behind Ricky Martin's worldwide pop success with María (1994) and La Copa de la Vida (1998), and the current smash Livin' La Vida Loca. But in his enigmatic manner, the 30-year-old Rosa, who has lived for the majority of his years in the U.S., has also put out three solo albums that straddle the darker side of rock and roll. Frío (1994), Vagabundo (1996), and Songbirds and Roosters (recorded in 1994 and released in 1998) are visionary works of Spanglish rock.
In its 1997 Top 10 list of the greatest rock en español records of all time, Spin magazine said of Rosa's second release, "like Axis-era Hendrix, Vagabundo reassures as much as it disturbs," epitomizing "the contemporary renaissance of rock en español." A moody metallic clash of guitars streaked with dark poetry influenced by Baudelaire and the great Mexican bard Jaime Sabines, Vagabundo is a subterranean journey to the core of a man's soul.
The intensity behind Rosa's work led him to be accused of being an agent of the devil after a performance on Mexican television. About his romance with the dark side, Rosa says: "You fall in love with the people you fall in love with. You fall in love with the books and the images you fall in love with. It's the reason I'm in the direction that I'm in. I don't know how to dissect it or give it a color or try to tell you exactly what it is because I don't fully understand it. But I am celebrating it and embracing it."
Still, for Rosa, his solo work is merely one aspect of his musical life. An ex-member of Menudo, Rosa stayed in close touch with his friend Ricky Martin, and has been a key architect of Ricky's dizzying worldwide success. "Robi is the soul of my music," says Ricky Martin. "He has made music in so many places in the world, that he knows all the sounds that come from these places. On my Latin record, he keeps me true to my Latin sound. On the English language album, he maintains the balance between the Latin and American feel. He's one of those 'behind-the-scenes' geniuses. But as much as I love what he does for me," Martin continues, "I love Robi's music more. His solo albums deeply affect my heart and soul."
Rosa, whose roots are Puerto Rican, grew up in suburban Long Island until he moved back to the island in his teens. He was deeply influenced by his parents' musical tastes. "My mother loved the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Who, and the Doors, and also r&b," said Rosa. "My dad was a big salsero. Yeah, he listened to the crooners, also-he had his take on Julio Iglesias and he listened to Camilo Sesto. But with the guys, it was always about la Fania All Stars. He was always into salsa, the dark, aggressive kind."
When he was 12, after his family moved back to the island, Rosa jumped at an opportunity to join Menudo who achieved their biggest U.S. successes when Robi sang lead vocals. Five years later when the managers of the teen group refused to let him write songs, he left to pursue a solo career in Brazil. Hanging hard in places like the Amazon region, Rio and Salvador, and Bahia, Rosa had the musical education of his life. He renamed himself "Draco Cornelius" to celebrate his poetic rebirth.
Rosa left Brazil after putting out two records. He went briefly to Argentina, and then to Los Angeles, where he made the movie Salsa and met his future wife in his co-star, Angela Alvarado. Although he continued to audition for movie parts, he felt compromised the way he did with Menudo, so he focused on his painting and formed Maggie's Dream, a group whose Hendrix meets Jane's Addiction raucousness earned it a spot on tours with Fishbone, the Black Crowes, and Faith No More. In 1993, Tomas Muñoz, Senior Vice-President of Sony International who had also signed Ricky Martin to the label, signed Rosa to Sony Latin. Rosa went to Spain to record Frío.
"I had been making music that rocked harder, and then, on Frío, I got into the Spanish thing," said Rosa. Strongly attracted to Spain's rich flamenco tradition, Rosa dedicated one song to the veteran singer Camaron de la Isla. But Frío is also brimming with power pop classics like "Pasión" and "Cruzando Puertas." At the same time, Robi's record company asked him to record an English-language version of Frío. With a limited budget and only two weeks to complete the project, Robi complied as best he could; there was neither time nor budget to record all new music and the moody, poetic nature of the lyrics doesn't translate easily; so Robi wrote new lyrics to the music of Frío. The project was shelved for five years.
In between solo projects, Robi worked on Ricky Martin's A Medio Vivir, with writer/producer KC Porter. He co-wrote and co-produced the majority of the songs on the album, including the hit singles, "María," "Fuego De Noche Nieve De Día", "Volveras" and "Revolución".
At the same time, he formed a band with ex-Circle Jerk Sander Schloss, called Sweet and Low. "We were constantly butting heads," recalled Rosa, "because he was a little headstrong and I was too. But we were able to do a few hits around town."
In '96, Rosa released Vagabundo, which was recorded in England with legendary Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera producing. A tour de force of introspectively haunting tunes like "Llanto Subterraneo," "Madre Tierra" and "Penelope," Vagabundo established Rosa as a unique composing talent. Although he battled with label management to retain the record's challenging vision, he is deeply satisfied with the end product.
"The rule for me is: Music is meant to be felt and not understood. I came across this in Albert Camus many years ago. It's tricky because when you deal with the pop world, all anybody wants to do is understand. All these record people are trying to do their math, and like 'what about this hook?' or 'the intro's too long.' I've had a lot of debates with people about this. In fact I've stopped working with people over this," said Rosa, "My whole thing has been let's just kick back and feel stuff, and let's work until we're like, 'yeah, this is feeling good.'"
Rosa's approach has won him many fans in the industry. Entertainment Weekly named him to their IT LIST of the l00 most creative people in the entertainment industry. Alain Johannes, from ELEVEN, producer of Chris Cornell's first solo effort and engineer for No Doubt talks about the music: "Robi is plugged into the source. His passion and natural ability as a musician are fused seamlessly. His poetry is rooted in tradition but has a dark yet romantic modern quality."
The success of Vagabundo encouraged Sony to give radio stations an English track from the earlier English language sessions. "Junkie" (which is Frío's "Cuando Pasará" with new lyrics) was such a huge success that the remainder of the unreleased material was released as an album, Songbirds and Roosters, in l998, five years after it was recorded.
Ironically for Rosa, as a re-released version of five-year-old songs was being played on the radio, he was touring with the material from Vagabundo, and he wrote and recorded Vuelve, Ricky Martin's most successful album to date. Vuelve netted five hit singles including "La Copa de la Vida", (written and produced with Desmond Child) "Vuelve" (produced with Porter) and "Perdido Sin Ti" (produced with Porter).
Rosa spent some of last year and part of l999 writing and recording Ricky Martin's first English album. He wrote and produced ten songs on the new album, including the first single and the likely second. Martin's hard work and the success of Rosa's composition, "Livin' La Vida Loca", skyrocketed the album to an astounding first week of sales: 66l,000 albums and a debut at #l on the album charts.
These days Rosa is enjoying the creative freedom his success as songwriter and producer has brought him. "I do enjoy the rush because it's a different kind of energy. It's just a whole other way of breathing," says Rosa. "I don't have to worry about shit like what am I going to do about next month's rent." Rosa is in great demand as a producer. He recently signed with Warner-Chappell, prestigious representatives for songwriters such as Jakob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow, Gamble & Huff, and others. He plans to do another album for Sony, continue working with Martin, play with Gringo Star, a band featuring guitarist and longtime collaborator of Rosa's Rusty Anderson (Animal Logic, New Radicals, Edna Swap), and hopes to release an orchestral version of Vagabundo. Ultimately, he'd like to become involved in writing movie soundtracks.
But for now, Rosa and his wife Angela are splitting their time between Los Angeles and Puerto Rico, devoting substantial energy to bringing up their five-year-old son, Revel. Rosa isn't surprised that Puerto Ricans like Martin, Marc Anthony, and Jennifer Lopez are making some of the biggest noise in pop music today. "If anyone was going to do it, it was going to be the Puerto Ricans. We have the flavor, the African thing, and a cross-cultural American vibe. The good life thing. It's the best of all worlds."