Julio Iglesias Coming To Terms With America

May 31, 1991|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

It was shaping up as one of those interviews. Half an hour before the appointed time, one of the star's assistants calls from Miami to say that something has come up, and the interview needs to be moved back a bit. Would 4:30 be all right?

Shortly after 4, there's another call. A last-minute recording session has run overtime; would 6 be too late? But even that doesn't work out -- bad weather, the assistant says, has snarled traffic -- so it's closing in on 7 by the time the phone rings again.

Julio Iglesias, ever the gentleman, apologizes the moment he comes on the line.

"Excuse me for the delay, OK?" he says in his accented English. "It was hectic." One can imagine. Already in the midst of his American tour, Iglesias had finished a swing through California two days earlier, and he was due in Saskatoon, Canada, the next day. In the meantime, there were recording sessions to complete, and interview calls to make.

Iglesias doesn't complain, though. He's used to it. "It's always like this," he says. "It's normal. You need the promotion, you need to talk to people, you need visibility. Because my career is my life. It's not a sacrifice to deal with the press, because without it I don't reach anybody."

He laughs, and adds, "I tell you, I have to do this, because I don't know how to do anything else."

Maybe so, but it's not as if he's hurting for work. Arguably the most popular musician on earth, over the past two decades the Spanish-born singer has sold 130 million albums (in six different languages). His latest release, "Starry Night," has already gone platinum in three countries.

Here in the U.S., however, the album has only gone gold -- a respectable showing, to be sure, but hardly enough to put Iglesias at the top of the charts. " 'Starry Night' has been much more successful outside of the United States than in the United States," he acknowledges. "The album has been No. 1 in many countries, even though they do not speak English.

"In America, it has been an OK album."

Even so, he's hardly disappointed. "America is not a frustration," he says. "America is the greatest country. I don't say that because I have to tour within America; America is the best country in the world for me. Everybody wants to make it in America."

Making it in America, though, is not as easy as people think. As Iglesias puts it, "You cannot come to America with your own music and try to say, 'OK, I've got my record.' You have to learn America. It's not only important to have your artistic values; you have to know also the artistic values of the Americans. And to meet them in a balanced way, without losing your artistry.

"Which is very hard."

Particularly for a performer like him. Iglesias is a melodicist at heart, the sort of singer who's most at home with traditionally tuneful material. "I have listened to this music for the last 30 years," he says. "It's in my ears, and the ears of everybody from China to Finland every day. Because the main artists in the world sing the main melodies."

Not every melody works in every language, though, and even though Iglesias has no trouble getting his songs across in Spanish, Italian or French, he finds that English -- particularly American English -- can be quite a hurdle. "The music may go the same way, with the same harmonies," he says, "but the phrasing of the English is completely different from the phrasing of the Portuguese, or the French, or the Spanish. Which makes it very difficult."

His next album, for instance, will focus on the music of Brazil. Obviously, it's not a new idea -- Paul Simon, the Manhattan Transfer and David Byrne have all tried, with varying degrees of success, to popularize Brazilian music in the U.S. -- but Iglesias believes that the key is finding material that translates well into English.

"You could take a song from Caetano Veloso," he says, referring to one of Brazil's most esteemed songwriters, "and do it in translation with the best poet in America. It could be a good meaning in American, but the phrasing -- when the phrase has to beat with the rhythm -- it's going to be sometimes very different, because the accents are going to be on other parts.

"But if you choose the melodies thinking of adaptation already, and try to reach the phrasing of that melody with English words, it can work."

Iglesias, it should be added, is quite conscious of his own difficulties with English. Asked at one point what will be the biggest surprise in his new show, he laughs. "The biggest surprise for my fans?" he says. "I'm going to say 'Hello' in English."

Even so, he relishes the challenge, because he knows that whatever he learns about singing in English will only add to his overall skills. And, more than anything else, Iglesias wants to keep growing as an artist.

"If I will not put new colors in my voice every day," he says, "I know that I will die as an artist. If I had not kept learning, from the first time I sang -- and I am talking about 25 years ago -- until today, I would not be able to survive as an artist.

"Because even if I don't sing in America, which has been wonderful for me, I will sing in Rome. Or Paris, or wherever. I just made a tour in Brazil, and there were hundreds, hundreds of thousands of people. I love it.

"I would like to have that situation in America," he adds. "And if I need 20 albums to do it, I will wait."

Julio Iglesias

When: Monday, June 3, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Merriweather Post Pavilion

Tickets: $25 pavilion, $18.50 lawn

Call: 481-6000 for tickets, 730-2424 for information

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