Reviewed on this page:
Breaking Night - Love & Happiness - Dicen Que Soy - Jazzin' - Sobre El Fuego - Sola -
Latin Songbird: Mi Alma y Corazon - Soy Diferente - Única
This page is not about the nation India, but rather the Nuyorican
singer of salsa, house, jazz or whatever else she's taking on this
week. India took an unusual route to salsa stardom: after she married
her childhood sweetheart "Little" Louie Vega, he rose to stardom
producing hits for Latin hip hop acts.
He put together one album for his wife which didn't sell,
and while he was working on another he introduced her to salsa/jazz
heavyweight Eddie Palmieri. Palmieri
was enthralled with her huge, dramatic voice, and immediately
started writing and recording with her. Next, India came up with a
straightforward NY Sound salsa disc, which brought her tremendous
sales and made her reputation as the foremost young salsa diva.
Fluent and expressive in Spanish and English, India continued
to cross boundaries, recording a Latin jazz album in 1996
with Tito Puente and the Count Basie Orchestra, though since then she's largely stuck to salsa. India doesn't write
much, sticking with the traditional interpreter's role, but
nevertheless puts an unmistakable personal stamp on her work.
I've seen India live a couple of times, and reviewed a 2007 show here.
Breaking Night (1989)
Latin freestyle is usually uptempo dance pop with catchy if simple hooks and breathy, high-pitched female vocals. On
India's debut, her powerful voice sounds completely out of place, and someone forgot all about the catchy hooks. The
tracks produced by Jellybean Benitez ("Dancing On The Fire" and "Steppin' Out") are painful, and most of the other
numbers are no better ("Right From The Start" by Mantronik," the title track produced by Paul Robb). The tracks produced
by "Little" Louis Vega are a bit more tuneful ("I've Got A Plan") and also show more variety, coming up with a standard
pop tune ("You Should Be Loving Me") and even an Eric Carmen ballad ("I'm Through With Love"). The seeds of her later
success are here, and her voice can already bring chills, but once you've heard her better records you won't be playing
this one very often. (DBW)
In 1991, India's fortunes changed considerably when she hooked up
with Eddie Palmieri for his Llegó La India album.
They toured together on the success of the disc, but split up after
Palmieri displayed some, shall we say, Packwoodesque tendencies.
Love & Happiness (Yemaya y Ochún) The Tribal EP (River Ocean featuring India: 1994)
"River Ocean" is a fake band: really this is just India and Vega,
doing a tribal house number that samples the Palmieri track "Yemaya
y Ochún." It's a nice tune, with India belting in fine form
and Tito Puente contributing live percussion, but there's only one
song on the CD, in eight exhausting versions, many of which sound
almost identical. Don't pay too much for this one. (DBW)
Dicen Que Soy (1994)
Sergio George has produced the most inventive NY salsa of the last
ten years (including the best Orquesta de la
Luz albums), and he's also produced a ton of routine cookie-
cutter tunes. There's a bit of both here: the first single "Nunca
Voy A Olvidarte" has a generic melody and arrangement, and "Que
Ganas De No Verte Más" isn't much better, although India's
vocals give both tunes an urgency they never deserved. But the
hilarious man-bashing "Ese Hombre" and "O Ella O Yo" (previously a
hit for María Conchita Alonso) are irresistable, heavily-
syncopated grooves, and George gets inventive on the title track,
developing from a synth-string opening to songo, via a wrenching
lead vocal. India's own compositions "Dejate Amar" and "No Me
Conviene" are clever and moving, while a cover of "I Just Want To
Hang Around You" isn't much more than an excuse for her to sing in
English. For good measure, the CD includes a live version of
India's hit duet with Marc Anthony, "Vivir Lo Nuestro." If you
don't like this CD you probably won't like any NY salsa at all.
Jazzin' (Tito Puente/India: 1996)
Not one to get pigeonholed, India made her next project a Latin
jazz collaboration with Tito Puente, about half standards and half
new compositions. Four tracks also feature the Count Basie
Orchestra, while the remainder feature Puente's Latin Jazz
Ensemble. Both bands are excellent, but don't get much chance to
shine: Puente gets all the extended solos, and while India's
singing you aren't likely to pay much attention to the pianist, the
conga player or anybody else. She's in her usual form, displaying
a fine sense of pitch (title track) and deft bilingual phrasing
("Fever," previously recorded by Little Willie John, Peggy Lee and Isaac Hayes)
although she gets a bit carried away with herself at times ("Take
It Or Lose It"). The originals aren't too gripping, with many of
the standards faring better: a funky take on "Going Out Of My Head"
is probably the record's high point, with Antonio Carlos Jobim's
"Wave" a close second. Cole Porter's "Love For Sale" is such a
corny tune I can't believe they recorded it, but even here they do
a decent job. Famed disco producer Vincent Montana Jr. contributes
two tracks, "To Be In Love" and "Love Me," which sound exactly like
his Salsoul Orchestra work - he's the Producer That Time Forgot.
Remixes of earlier work, mostly from Dicen Que Soy though Jazzin' and Llegó La India are
represented by one or two cuts each. I never buy remix albums, so it's unlikely I'll be reviewing this any time soon.
In 1997, India contributed to Nuyorican Soul.
Sobre El Fuego (1997)
Back to standard NY salsa, produced and arranged by Isidro Infante. Unlike George, Infante doesn't vary the formulas at
all, with slow openings predictably building to piano-led midtempo numbers, horns and percussion kept in the background,
and India singing her lungs out on the fades ("Mi Mayor Venganza," "Te Daré Dulzura"). There are also the
obligatory covers of English language pop tunes ("Si Tú Eres Mi Hombre"). The big pluses are catchy tunes (Laura
Reyes' "No Me Lo Confiesas," the santería-laced duet with Celia Cruz "La Voz De La Experiencia"), and that
thrilling voice. Again, India doesn't write much, pitching in with a few translations and the moving album closer "Si
Estuvieras Aquí." Not nearly as good as Dicen Que Soy, but you won't go far wrong. (DBW)
In 1998, India and Nuyorican Soul contributed a cover of "I Love The Nightlife (Disco Round)" by Alicia Bridges to the Last Days Of Disco soundtrack.
In a year that saw various Puerto Rican stars (Ricky Martin et al.) break into
the English-language market, India apparently made a conscious decision to go in the other direction. For the first
time, there's no song in English or cover of a tune originally sung in English; instead there's plenty of NY salsa
("Aún Lo Amo," "Lo Siento Mi Amor," which sounds like a single) and even a traditional bolero ("Que Te
Pedí"). Infante arranged again and co-produced with India. So far, so good. Trouble is, much of the material
is thin ("Esa Mujer") - nothing was written by India this time around - and there's not enough of it: nine songs
totallying forty-one minutes, including both ballad and dance versions of the title track. Also, she neglects the lush bottom of
her range, singing nearly every song in her high register, which is a bit less powerful and occasionally shrill ("Esa
Mujer"). The album is apparently an homage to La Lupe, and at least a couple of tunes herein ("Si Vuelves Tú")
are closely associated with the late singing legend, but I'm too ignorant to draw any comparisons. (DBW)
Latin Songbird: Mi Alma y Corazon (2002)
Mostly salsa, with nods to other styles (the bolero "Navidad Sin Verte," with striking Spanish guitar from Máximo Torrez), and it's
mostly excellent. Her voice is in peak form ("Soy Mujer"), the arrangements are sharp ("Que Me Importa"), and several of the tunes are terrific
("Sedúceme," one of three songs she wrote; "Traición").
She does goes a bit overboard with double versions: both "Sedúceme" and "Traición" are done in dance and ballad modes, and "El Hombre Perfecto" is present
as a lovely bachata and as a lame bass-heavy merengue.
Producers include India, Infante, José Gazney, Emilio Estefan, KC Porter, and a few others.
Also this year, India contributed a song to Masters At Work's Our Time Is Coming: "Backfired."
Soy Diferente (2006)
A reunion with Sergio George, who wrote (with India), arranged and produced (with Infante) nearly all the tracks.
He's an old hand at integrating hip hop into Latin music (witness DLG), so the album's ventures into reggaeton sound organic (title track, featuring Cheka), and he's adept as ever at slipping jazz changes into salsa vamps ("Solamente Una Noche"). He nods to current trends without straying far from a traditional sound, with fiery horn charts and crisp percussion breaks ("Un Amor Obsesivo").
Most importantly, George knows when to get out of the way and let India do what she does best: sing like crazy, from a whisper (the slightly mawkish "Madre E Hijo") to a belt ("Lágrimas").
Two collaborations show the album's range: from NY Sound demigod Tito Nieves ("No Es Lo Mismo") to current reggaeton star Ivy Queen ("Cuando Hieres A Una Mujer," produced by Estefan)... Her most solid outing since Dicen Que Soy.
I know I give high ratings to almost everything this woman does, but I'm not about to apologize.
On her latest mainstream salsa outing, India doesn't have any new tricks up her sleeve but doesn't need them, since the song material, George's production and her voice are equally strong ("Estupida," in salsa - with clever use of sitar - and ballad iterations). Each tune is well constructed to show off various facets of her instrument, often building from a whisper to a roar ("Si El Te Habla De Mi"), while her unquestioned commitment keeps the device from sounding contrived.
Only a couple of cuts sound ordinary or rehashed ("Te Vas Arrepentir" would have fit a little too well on Dicen Que Soy).
She even succeeds in reshaping Charlie Chaplin's ancient "Smile" into one of her trademark upshifting salsa ballads; other covers include the Teddy Pendergrass hit "Turn Off The Lights"
and Roy Orbison's "Crying."
Decidate... o ella o yo.