Crossing over in a new direction

Beyonce performs at Madison Square Garden on Aug. 4 in New York City.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: One definition of success as a recording artist is to become what's called a crossover hit. Usually, that's a singer moving from a smaller niche to a much wider audience. Here in the U.S. that used to mean Spanish-speaking singers breaking into English-language charts. Increasingly though, it means English-speaking artists delivering their lyrics en Español. Ambar Espinoza reports..


Ambar Espinoza: The R&B artist Beyonce is taking the lead at tapping into the Spanish-language market. The singer doesn't speak Spanish, but she re-released her most recent album with six Spanish tracks.

Her efforts are paying off. She's the first non-Latina to make the list of 50 most beautiful people in People Magazine en Español. And she's gotten invitations to appear on influential Spanish-language radio stations like KLVE in Los Angeles.

DJ: Beyonce, why Spanish? Why you want to record in Spanish?

Translator: Porque quisiste grabar in Español, Beyonce?

Beyonce: Well, I'm from Houston, Texas.

Translator: Soy de Houston, Texas.

Beyonce: And I grew up around a lot of people that spoke Spanish.

In another savvy marketing ploy, Beyonce has teamed up with Latin American megastars like Shakira, Voltio, and here with Mexican singing sensation Alejandro Fernandez to perform the theme song for a very popular Latin soap opera.

[Music.]

The man who translated Beyonce's songs is award-winning producer and songwriter Rudy Perez. He can't speak highly enough of the effect her marketing strategies are having. He points to one Spanish version of her hit song "Irreplaceable."

The song was remixed with a regional Mexican beat.

Rudy PEREZ: By having done that, we were bumped up 34 percent in the radio airplay in one week, which turned out to be probably one of the most successful singles in the history of recorded pop music.

Perez says a key reason American labels and artists need to break into the Latino market is this: Overall music sales in the U.S. are slumping, Latin music sales are climbing about 5 percent a year. And edgy, young artists like Beyonce aren't the only ones switching to Spanish. It's also performers like family music singer Dan Zanes.

In a studio in Manhattan, he performs one of the tracks on his first Spanish-only album scheduled for release next year. The album is a collection of songs from Latin America and the Caribbean and he sings them along with local Latino musicians in New York. Zanes says it's his way of celebrating the cultural vitality immigration has brought to the U.S.

Dan Zanes: The biggest thing I could do was to begin to cross over the language. You know, what once felt like a barrier, but now it just feels like a wonderful opportunity.

Zanes is still working on being fully bilingual so he can eventually write his own Spanish songs. He says he wants his music to sound like his New York neighborhood so numbers in Spanish have always been a part of his albums and concerts.

It's not just the artists who are evolving. It's the Latino market itself. Jeff Valdez is a television producer and marketing expert. He says Latinos' numbers and buying power are changing the very nature of the game.

Jeff Valdez: The consuming is so large that it just can't be a niche anymore. Really, I consider it the new general market.

More and more artists in every format from mainstream pop to hip hop are eager for a slice of the pie. Even the Country Music Association plans to launch a marketing campaign in 2008 to attract Latino listeners.

In Los Angeles, I'm Ambar Espinoza for Marketplace.

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