It's 3 in the afternoon, and after pulling an all-nighter in his home studio, Marc Anthony, 33, appears at his front door--not in one of his signature Armani suits, but barefoot, in striped drawstring pants and a white undershirt, with a Jesus scapular hanging down his neck. His wide opal eyes are beaming. "You want to talk about my new salsa album?" he says. "Nah, you need to hear it."
He skips down stairs leading to the basement of his 10,000-sq.-ft. colonial manor in Brookville on New York's Long Island. Half the basement is being turned into a bar. The other half bristles with expensive, high-tech equipment and is littered with CDs, papers and recent photographs of friends and family taken by his wife, Dayanara Torres, 26, with her new digital camera. For the past three weeks, Anthony has spent entire evenings down here, smoking more Newports than usual, as he gets closer to completing his album. He digs through a pile of CDs. "This album you're about to hear represents me more than anything I've ever done...if I can only find it."
¡Al fin! The music starts. He springs up like a grasshopper and dances over his songs' bold introductions. Each song, he explains, has been arranged with a unique instrumental prelude that highlights a particular global sound: an African clay flute scampers across one track, an accordion moans on another, a Uruguayan quijada (jawbone of a donkey) scratches on a third. "We're creating world music in a Long Island basement," he says with a laugh. The song speeds up and, wanting to show off some complicated turns, he asks to have this dance. He's clumsy but an emotional dancer. Then, without warning, he starts in on the chorus of Eres Mia (You Are Mine), a song that he says reminds him of his wife. His pliant and melodious voice rises and falls, conveying a sense of yearning. He sustains a note in space. Though only 5 ft. 7 in. tall and thin as a reed, he carries the voice of a giant.
It's been almost four years since Anthony's last salsa album, the Grammy-winning Contra La Corriente, was released. The fans are restless. "There's no question that he has made salsa more exciting," says Leila Cobo, Billboard magazine's Caribbean and Latin American bureau chief. "Now the challenge will be conquering the mainstream audience." That's exactly what he aimed for during the late-'90s, Ricky-and-Jennifer Latin-crossover blitz. In 1999, after a career singing in Spanish, Anthony released his first English-language pop album. Marc Anthony sold more than 4 million copies internationally; the album's single, I Need to Know, was a Top 10 hit in the U.S. That CD proved he was capable of pop stardom.
If his new CD can win over a wide fan base of both English and Spanish speakers, he may prove something even more significant--that a Latin singer doesn't need a pop album to be a superstar. Ricky and Jennifer merely jumped into the mainstream; Anthony's salsa album could redirect it. But don't call him a crossover. He's allergic to the word. "What did I cross over from?" he asks. "I'm as American as anybody. I was born in your backyard."