By Ashley Zimmerman
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It's a bit difficult to get through the shield Nuyorican pop superstar Robi Dräco Rosa uses to protect himself from questions about his public persona. But he lays it all on the line for us.
"Who knows? Who cares?" Rosa spits. "Between perception and my reality, there are seven seas of chaos, and only a few people sail those oceans."
Seas of chaos aside, it's not easy to sail those "oceans" without forming some "perceptions" about his multiple personalities. When he joined the Puerto Rican boy band Menudo and recorded Reaching Out, the 1984 album that brought Menudo-mania to the States, he was known as Robby. When the seas of Menudo got choppy and he wasn't allowed to write his own songs, he was the first member to quit the band, in 1987. Rosa then jumped the boy-band ship to the next logical choice -- grunge. He relocated to New York, formed his own alt-rock band called Maggie's Dream, and decided to call himself Rob Rosa. When he wrote tunes for Puerto Rican balladeer Ednita Nazario in 1999, he used another alias, Dolores del Infante.
But now, he responds to the name Robi Dräco Rosa. Fronting a six-piece band, Rosa plans to present several numbers from Mad Love, his fifth solo album, on an upcoming tour of the U.S. "Yeah, maybe it's more agreeable to the masses than others, but it depends on who you talk to," Rosa says of Mad Love. "Every album that we listen to has a song or two that are more agreeable than others."
Although Spin magazine called his 1996 release, Vagabundo, one of the top ten rock en español albums of all time, Mad Lovemay be the most mainstream of Rosa's releases. He allegedly drove up and down the West Coast listening to Miles Davis' Bitches Brew in preparation. And the result is a well-crafted yet atmospheric pop/jazz album that still has a bit of salsa and sensuality.
Rosa is also credited as the man behind Ricky Martin (no pun intended). As the main songwriter and producer of Martin hits such as "Maria" (from 1995's A Medio Vivir), "La Copa de la Vida" (from 1998's Vuelve), and "She Bangs" (from 2000's Sound Loaded), he is partly responsible for lighting the fuse of the Latin pop explosion. Always the chameleon, he wrote several of those songs under the name Ian Blake out of admiration for Ian Astbury, lead singer of the Cult, and poet William Blake.
"To make music is a privilege," says Rosa, who also produced Martin's "Livin' la Vida Loca." "That is something I learned later in life. When I go out, I don't only think about myself. I think that I'm Puerto Rican, that I'm Latino, and that I represent propellers, not anchors. My mission is so beyond music, my friend."
As part of his mission, Rosa is no longer writing numbers for pop singers such as Martin or Julio Iglesias (for whom he penned three songs on Iglesias' Noche de Cuatro Lunas in 2000.) His current focus is "to support the eccentric, the progressive thinkers" through Phantom Vox. Established in 1998, it includes a management company, a publishing division, and a recording studio.
"At the end of the day, I'm just one man," he says. "What can I say? Either you like the music or you don't. I haven't changed my music for anyone. I haven't been for sale. I wasn't for sale ten years ago, and I'm still not for sale. I don't work for labels, record companies, or the radio. I make music for the same reason we have to drink water. That's Dräco, papi -- that's who you are talking to today. You wanna be funny and try to bring humor to the fact that I'm an eclectic soul? You're damn right. I do a lot of things."
So does Rosa ever play any of the songs he wrote or produced for Ricky at his shows?
"You never have been into one of my shows, obviously," he replies. "No, I don't play them."
"You want me to?"
Touché, Robi. Consider that a token of his generosity, folks. When he performs in South Florida, you won't have to listen to a cover of "Livin' la Vida Loca."