It Always Translates Into Love

Rudy Perez, a top name in Latin pop, straddles two cultures as he teaches pop stars to sing in Spanish and works on an album of his own.
Rudy Perez, a top name in Latin pop, straddles two cultures as he teaches pop stars to sing in Spanish and works on an album of his own. (By Joshua Prezant For The Washington Post)
By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 27, 2007


Well, of course the soundtrack to Rudy Perez's life opens with a love song.

He's a master of the form, having written, produced and arranged some of the most successful love songs in Latin pop over the past 20 years. His canciónes de amor -- sentimental songs dripping with emotion -- have sold millions around the world. They've been used for breakups, makeups, courtships, wedding dances, babymaking, proms, self-pity sessions and bouts of teenage melodrama. They've won awards. They've made Perez fabulously rich, if not necessarily famous. They've even gotten him hired as a lyric-translator-to-the-stars.

But this particular ballad that started it all didn't actually belong to Perez, the 49-year-old hitmaker whose Range Rover license plate says "CANCION" -- Spanish for "song."

"I was 15 and I'd met my first love, this young girl from Spain," Perez says one night while driving from his Collins Avenue recording studio to a South Beach sushi bar. "She told me, 'Dance to this song with me and listen to the words.' And then I never saw her again. Right as we were falling in love, her father sent her away. He said I wasn't good enough for her. I got my heart broken and kept listening to the song -- one of Julio Iglesias's biggest hits, 'Abrázame.' "

He hums the song's melody.

Ah, memories! And oh, he says, his wife is going to kill him for talking about this. . .

"But it's an important story. That's when I really started listening to Latin music. Before, I had no interest in it except for my mom's great Cuban music. But all of the sudden, I'm writing Latin songs because I'm listening to Julio Iglesias and crying. It changed my life. I'm in the Latin music business because of Julio."

Fans of Latin music tend to love their love songs -- "We sell emotion," says Eddie Fernandez, a senior executive for Universal Music Publishing Group's Latin America division -- and Perez is only happy to oblige. Though he's dabbled in other genres and styles, from jazz (Arturo Sandoval) and opera (Il Divo) to Anglo standards (Michael Bolton) and Anglo pop (Wild Orchid, featuring the singer later known as Fergie), Perez specializes in big ballads about romance and heartbreak.

While some listeners might hear mushy treacle in the music, others embrace it as classic pop. The latter group generally wins out: The long list of hit love songs written, produced and arranged by Perez includes Cristian Castro's "Lo Mejor de Mi" ("My Best Thing"), the Vikki Carr-Ana Gabriel duet "Cosas del Amor ("Things of Love,") Luis Fonsi's "Imagíname Sin Ti" ("Imagine Me Without You") and Luis Miguel's "Ayer" ("Yesterday") -- all of which reached No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Latin Tracks chart.

Six years ago, Pilar Montenegro's remake of "Quitame Ese Hombre" ("Take This Man" Out of My Heart), which Perez produced but didn't write, was No. 1 for a record 13 weeks. The song that replaced it? Jennifer Peña's "El Dolor de Tu Presencia" ("The Pain of Your Presence"), written, produced and arranged by Perez.

"He's written so many hits that have become standards in Latin music," says Universal Music's Fernandez. "He's a great producer, but as a writer, he's one of the best. He writes great love stories with beautiful melodies and lyrics that aren't so complex that people don't get it. People understand the message. And they feel it."

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