Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


SANTA ROSA, Gilberto

(b 21 Aug. '62, Santurce, Puerto Rico) Salsa singer. The success of salsa romántica in the latter half of the '80s resuscitated salsa, but also precipitated an injection of multinational music industry marketing values and the muscling-in of mega-corporations like Sony and EMI; as in Anglo-American pop, form (image, youth, 'good looks', etc) took precedence over content. But there were exceptions, such as Santa Rosa. From a non-musical family, he was influenced by El Gran Combo's original vocal duo of Andy Montañez and Pellín Rodríguez (1926-84), began singing '74 with the group Evolución '75 (later renamed Orquesta Potencia) led by timbalero Don Perignon (real name Pedro Morales), and made his recording debut '78 with the Mario Ortiz band on LP Borinquen Flame '77 on Borinquen, which brought him into contact with musicians like Elías Lopés, then music director and trumpeter with José Canales's Orquesta La Grande; he made his first trip to NYC with La Grande to record LP We Love N.Y. '78 on Solo; participated on Borinquen All Stars '79 on Borinquen and Puerto Rico All Stars' album tribute to Eddie Palmieri called Tribute To The Messiah '79 (reissued on Combo '93). He joined Tommy Olivencia's band for two years, appearing on Tommy Olivencia And His Orchestra '79, then Willie Rosario: he featured on some of that bandleader's finest albums '81-6, such as Nuevos Horizontes '84, Afincando/25 Aniversario '85 and Grammy-nominated Nueva Cosecha '86. Sang in the coro (chorus) on Aquel Gran Encuentro '83 by El Combo Del Ayer, which reunited some ex-El Gran Combo original members incl. Pellín Rodríguez; Elías Lopés was music director, co-arranger and played trumpet.

El Gran Combo leader Rafael Ithier introduced him to Combo Records boss Ralph Cartagena, for whom he made four albums '86-9: Good Vibrations, Keeping Cool!, De Amor y Salsa and Salsa En Movimiento, the last including the hit single 'Tengo Una Muñeca'. He changed to CBS (now Sony Discos) for salsa romántica chart-topper Punto De Vista '90, with hits 'Vivir Sin Ella' and 'Perdoname'. Singing coro and occasional lead vocals with Santa Rosa's salsa orchestra (two to three trumpets, two trombones, baritone sax, rhythm section of conga, bongo, timbales, bass and piano, and voices) was ex-Orquesta Revelación member Alex D'Castro, who then left to make his successful solo debut Solo, followed by Regalame Esta Noche, Enhorabuena, A Empezar de Nuevo, El Tenor de la Salsa and the spiritually oriented Un Tenor para el Cielo '91-6, all on Rodven. Gilberto's Perspectiva '91 was another chart-topper. A Dos Tiempos De Un Tiempo '92 paid tribute to his idol Tito Rodríguez, to coincide with the 20th anniversary of his death: using a big band, Gilberto interpreted Rodríguez classics and an original number dedicated to Tito, arranged by former Rodríguez saxist/arranger Ray Santos, Mario Ortiz and others. Guests included ex-Tito Rodríguez music director/ lead trumpeter Victor 'Vitín' Paz, Arturo Sandoval, Elías Lopés and Papo Lucca. With electronic help Santa Rosa sang a duet with Rodríguez on the bolero 'En La Soledad'. The subtle yet compelling Nace Aquí '93 was a return to business as usual.

On whether he falls into the camp of romantic or 'conventional' salsa, Santa Rosa maintains that he does it his own way, and sees no contradiction between romantic and rhythmic: 'I also try where I can to throw in some bomba and son montuno, adding a touch here and there ... I feel very comfortable doing what I'm doing.' He acted as artistic assistant and sang coro on albums by Mario Ortiz '84-90 and joined the esteemed company of soneros Andy Montañez and Pedro Brull (from Mulenze) in the all-star La Puertorriqueña lineup marshalled by Don Perignon for Festival De Soneros '90. Santa Rosa has various Farándula Diplo awards to his name, including Salsa Singer of the Year, Salsa Band of the Year and Album of the Year, and has been nominated in various categories for the Billboard Lo Nuestro award. Produced solo debut album Justo A Tiempo '93 on Sony Tropical by promising young sonero Victor Manuelle (b NYC, raised in PR; recruited to Perignon's band on Santa Rosa's recommendation; sang co-lead vocals on Perignon's La Buena Vida! '89 on TTH). His '94 release De Cara Al Viento, which he felt was his most complete work up to that point, shot straight to no. 1 in the Farándula chart; double CD set En Vivo Desde El Carnegie Hall '95 captured a successful concert. Esencia '96 scotched rumours of his retirement.