Marc Anthony: Best of Both Worlds

Don't say crossover to Marc Anthony. With a pop album in English and a salsa album in Spanish, he wants it all

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Born Marco Antonio Muniz (and named after the famous Mexican singer) in New York City, Anthony was raised by his Puerto Rican emigre parents in East Harlem. His father--a frustrated musician who held three jobs just to put food on the table--used to gather his musician friends on weekends for drinks and impromptu singing. Until it was time for his duet, four-year-old Anthony would scurry underneath the men's legs and offer to shine their shoes. His father would stand him on top of the kitchen table, and the two would sing El Zorsal or Hidos de la Mente, the only songs Anthony knew. In elementary school, he recalls, "whenever I sang--maybe because I had to concentrate so hard--I'd lose my embarrassing stutter."

By high school, a long-haired Anthony had the Chinese symbol for "singer" tattooed on his right arm and was hanging out in nightclubs, befriending DJs and producers who were quick to capitalize on his talent--but all too happy to ignore his gawky look. He sang backup and wrote for groups like Menudo and Sa-Fire; he was even paid as a "phantom voice" (a la Milli Vanilli) for a number of pretty boys with record deals. "It used to eat me up that they'd land a deal and couldn't sing," recalls Anthony. At 17, with no deal of his own in sight, he heeded his mother's advice. "You'll never make money in music," she would say. "Give up and join the Air Force like your brothers." Two weeks before he was scheduled for boot camp, his manager called with a record contract. It took $10,000 in legal fees to release him from his commitment to serve.

Anthony went on to make a number of forgettable albums. Then, one day, while he was stuck in traffic, a Juan Gabriel ballad titled Hasta Que Te Conoci came on the radio. "That song just hit me," Anthony says. The tune was rejiggered into a salsa groove. Anthony's version of the song became a staple on Spanish music stations. Before long, Anthony was one of the biggest stars in the Spanish-speaking world. To this day, he continues to reincarnate ballads into danceable salsa hits.

Anthony's new salsa CD will be released this fall by Sony Discos. The label gave Anthony complete autonomy as executive producer without hearing a single note until it was delivered. It didn't even question his decision to tap Juanito Gonzalez as his co-producer. Gonzalez, 33, a Manhattan School of Music graduate, has played keyboard in Anthony's band for the past eight years. "I noticed that whenever we toured, Juanito always took this big duffel bag with him," says Anthony. "Finally, one day I was like, 'What are you carrying around in there?' And he had all these CDs!" Gonzalez was collecting sounds from all the countries the group had visited. Anthony had an almost identical duffel at home. Immediately, Anthony knew he had to work with Gonzalez, who is said to have "an ear and a half for music."

A relative newcomer to production, Gonzalez earned his stripes playing with many old-school salseros. "Throughout the process," says Gonzalez, "our goal was to master simplicity." Not only have the two mastered it, but they've also expanded salsa into new dimensions. For example, Amarte de Lejos, which begins with an unorthodox bombardment of techno (yes, techno), is bridged by hollow echoes of a vibra-slap (a percussive instrument) that then fuse into a more traditional tropical arrangement.

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