Dicen Que Soy...All That and More: The India Interview
By
George Rivera

 

 

     George: India, why donít we start with your transformation from Dance Diva to Salsaís Princess.

    India: Well that came about at a time when Latin HipHop was very popular and then all of a sudden from one day to the next it took a dive. A lot of artists that were really popular in that scene suddenly disappeared. I always felt bad about that because we had something good going on there. We had a lot of Latinos opening doors and lots of work. We weren't selling a lot of albums, but we had a lot of hit singles. It was just a matter of time before one of the major record labels would take notice of what was going on. What eventually happened was that we got used by people like Madonna, Taylor Dayne, Expose and others that got involved in the Latin Hip Hop movement and utilizing some of our elements became famous. Another thing that happened was that we all started sounding alike. All the girls that were being signed were not really singers. The producer would put them in the studio and use the same beats, sounds, and basically just do the same production for everyone. That started to turn off the people that were into that scene. There were a few real singers. I have to thank God that he gave me something to play with. He gave me a voice that was like a diamond in the rough. I just needed to work a little harder to better myself as a performer and as a singer. I knew that at least I had something to work with. For a lot of the artists coming out of that scene it was harder because they got lost in the shuffle. So, that music didn't go far. It was great, it was wonderful, it was popular, and internationally it was very popular, but it just wasn't going anywhere and I got very frustrated. At the time I was signed to Warner Bros. and I felt a need to grow. My Latin roots were calling out to me. I started going to the Village Gate, where I would hang with Tito Puente.  At the time I was recording the background vocals for a Masters at Work re-mix which Little Louie Vega had done of Ran Kan Kan. We met and I felt this great vibe from him. From the moment I met him I thought, gee, what a nice fella, what a nice guy. A legend that has been a pioneer of this music for a long time and yet he can still talk to the people and shake hands with everyone. What a role model Tito Puente is for the people. Iíve thought about how wonderful this is and I came to the conclusion that I would like to be around people like this for a while. By then I was married to Louie Vega, who was really the one who discovered me. I owe a lot to him and also to his uncle, Hector Lavoe. Hector would come over to the house and I'd ask him lots of questions. He was so nice. He told me he liked the way I sang. He felt I should forget about the dance music I was doing at the time and start looking to do salsa. He felt there was a need for someone to come open doors for the young up and coming talent. He would say "you're wasting your talent in the American Market. What you should really be doing is focusing on being here with us." He was right. He would always tell me that I had to learn how to work within different ranges. He would say "you sing so high all the time. I'd like to hear you sing in the lower registers." He was right and he made a lot of sense. He had told me that when he started singing everything was in the upper registers. He started talking with Pacheco and the people from Fania and they would say that he should work in the lower register as well. When he started to do that he discovered that he could do things he thought he couldnít. He said that was the only thing that I needed to learn. So, months went by and I kept working with Louie Vega to keep myself busy. I really couldn't do any Latin music because I was signed to Warner Bros. and they would not allow it. So I had to get out of that contract in order to record Latin music. I spoke to Ralph Mercado about it and he was interested in signing me. He and David Maldonado took me out to dinner. At the time they represented Marc Anthony. Louie and Marc were in the process of recording an album and I was recording the background vocals, as well as writing some of the tunes. Ralph was really interested in both of us. I told him that I was very interested in doing something with them, but that I would have to wait six months so that I could get out of the Warner contract. Once that contract was done with I could sit down with them and do something different. Ralph told me that he wanted me to record an album for RMM. He told me he represented Celia and that he wanted to see more women participating in the Salsa arena. He said he liked my personality, attitude and voice. He thought I had the right attitude for Salsa and that the people would like that. I was a little bewildered about the whole thing. People just kept calling me and telling me that I just had to do it. I had been wanting to do this for a long time but didn't get an opportunity because of my obligation to the dance music contract.

    George: Right, because of the Warner contract.

    India: Warner didnít understand this. Now they do because they started to see the numbers.

    George: As soon as they saw the numbers they jumped in!

    India: But before that they didn't have any faith. I started working with Louie Vega and later met Eddie Palmeri who was looking for a very different afro sound. He wanted something different. He wanted a new school kind of sound. So, he met with Louie and I. He loved me from the moment he saw me. He saw me smoking a cigar and he just went nuts. We talked about cigars. It was like the whole session was spent talking about cigars, his love for Cuban music, and Cuban cigars. It was very interesting. He said he wanted me to be part of his new album. I asked what he would be doing, and he said he was doing some Afro-Cuban stuff, real deep stuff. I asked him just what exactly was he looking for, to which he responded that he wanted some real soulful background vocals. I agreed to work with him and he loved it. He loved the fact that we were cooperative with him. That we were into his music and that we knew a little about him. That made him feel real good. As a result he really opened up to us. Then people started to see that Louie, him and I started to work with each other a little more. I think thatís when Ralph thought about Eddie doing being the one to produce my first salsa album.

    George: Is this before EDDIE PALMERI PRESENTS INDIA?

    India: Yes.

    George: This is before that?

    India: I thought it was a good idea even if it was only background vocals or if I were featured as the lead singer on one song. I thought it would be great for Eddie and myself. I admired Eddie a lot and I thought this would be fabulous. But it didn't end up like that. It ended up that he wanted to hold his album and work on mine. He said "can you sing?" "Can you get up there?" I said "yeah!" He said "goddamn!" He said "you excite the hell out of me." I would ask why, and he would say "because you can sing up there girl. Ain't nobody can take it up there." I would tell him that where I come from they did. The sisters would, and he would respond "yeah, but I ain't hearing no Latina take it up there." He arranged practically the whole album. He arranged it in a very high register so that people could compare me with Lalo Rodriguez. He said that the only one who could do this after Lalo was me. So, his intention was to excite people and to create something that would draw a lot of criticism. He said he didnít care about the criticism, he welcomed it. He said he wanted to do this because he knew that I could get up there and this interested him. When I first came out people loved the image of a Latin girl who they really didn't know. Where was she from? Was she from Cuba? Was she Puerto Rican? People loved it! People loved the whole idea that there was a female trying to make it. So, it was wonderful. We got a lot of great press. The press treated us nice. We received a whole lot of constructive criticism also. Some people thought that it was to aggressive for me. A lot of people thought that I was singing too high. But that's the type of stuff that Eddie wanted. He wanted to create controversy. And that he did.

    George: So from there?

    India: So from there I went on and I think that he loved the way I dealt with the press. In the beginning everybody thought that I wanted to be like Celia Cruz and Lupe. I tried to explain to them that it is very hard when you have your own style to be like somebody else. If you don't believe in originality you will fall into that trap. You'll do it without knowing it. But I come from such a different school. I love those women. I admire them. But, I want to work with my own style. When it comes to singing Iíll let them do their own singing. I don't touch any of Celia's or La Lupe's songs, because I have a lot of respect for them. That is why we have their recordings, so that we could sit back and appreciate what they did as artists. So, I explained that to the press. They liked that. They liked the fact that I knew what I was talking about and that I knew where I wanted to go with this music. They seemed so intrigued. They kept following up on my work. For about a year and a half I didn't come up with a Salsa album only because I was traveling throughout Europe dealing with this one dance single that went to number one on the Billboard dance charts. I also kept traveling with Masters at Work. That same year Marc Anthony came out with his first Latin album and did very well with it. RMM was also in the process of recording the LA COMBINATION PERFECTA project. That's when it all came out. I hadn't been doing Salsa in a year and a half. All of the sudden I hear this track, Vivir Lo Nuestro. I told them that I didn't have a problem with it. That it was alright and that we could do it.

    George: You and Marc were pretty close at the time, right?

    India: Very. More so than now. Now we don't even see each other much because of our work schedules.

    George: Right.

    India: I haven't seen him in so long... I agreed it would be great if we did the song together. I listened to the song. This song just blew me away. It was a year and a half that no one had heard from me. Then I gained all this weight and everybody was so surprise to see me. I went from being skinny to getting all fat like that. The only thing I had going for me was my voice. And then again the question was, is she going to sing in that high pitch? So what Sergio did was to work on getting me in a comfortable range. And it blew people away.

    George: That was with Vivir Lo Nuestro.

    India: I did a very soulful rendition. And Marc did his thing. It just sounded so great. The people loved it. It became a big hit. It made both of us International stars.

    George: So, from Vivir Lo Nuestro?

    India: It took off. Everybody was excited to hear that there would be another album from me. They obviously knew that style worked very well for me. There was a demand for me to do another album. That would be my second album with RMM Records. I got together with Sergio George who was looking to make an impact on the market. He was looking to open up the market with Marc and me. And thatís what he did. He did a great job with DICEN QUE SOY. That's when it all happened, I think. The whole thing was wonderful. The response from the people was great. They loved the songs. With DICEN QUE SOY I think the phenomenon grew. A lot of people were out at the time but they weren't capitalizing on the right sound. I think that a lot of the females tried to be too aggressive and too much like Celia. I think that turned off a lot of people. She is loved by the public. They don't want imitations. They don't want that. They just won't accept it. I think that now there is so much happening in terms of the up and coming young artists wanting to do Salsa. Some of them donít even know the music. It's creating a big vibe now and a lot of people now want to record it. There are a lot of people coming out now. I think that's what's important now because before we didn't have any activity. There was no activity at all whatsoever.

    George: Every once and a while a really good female singer comes along. Celia, Graciela, La Lupe, and that was about it. Now you have Brenda K. Starr, Ina Kaina, your sister, right? Who else is out there, Dedi Romero also wants to come out.

    India: Yes, but she's doing Merengue. And my sister, I got to hear her the other day and I said, "Oh my god!"

    George: Well, she's not bad. She's got a little style there. One of the tunes swings a little. I think that they rushed that record.

    India: They didn't rush that record. She just doesn't sing. They had to use a harmonizer to get her in key. That record company spent a lot of money trying to make her sound right. I was there I saw what those people had to go through putting her voice through that machine. She's not going to be able to do a lot.

    George: I guess they are going to have a problem with her live presentations.

    India: Nothing is happening for her. Her record company is just using my name to make money. That's like if Hector Lavoe's brother were to come out. Nobody is going to want to listen to him.

    George: Van Lester comes to mind.

    India: That's what's happening with her.

    George: Does she have it?

    India: She never did. That's the problem.

    George: On the latest record, your voice is at the right pitch. For not only me, but a lot of people. Lots of people have said the same thing. That your voice is right there, that it has a huskier sound. But it's good and I think that's your range. Is that your range?

    India: I have so many ranges. This was a range that made me feel very intimate. I was able to work at the lower register of my voice as well as the upper register. It was wonderful. I was able to start at the lower registers and then take it all the way to a high G. That's the most interesting part of this album for me. I was able to experiment more also. I didn't want to lose the intensity.

    George: You don't, as a matter of fact it gives it a better quality.

    India: I wanted it to have swing. I was into it. Listening, being on top of my inspiraciones, which everyday I learn more and more about. I think it's boring if my producer is going to give me every line to sing, or if I call say Gilberto Santa Rosa or Domingo Quiñones to write my inspiraciones. I consider that lazy. I think that if you are going to record "salsa" you should respect the music and learn to do things on your own. In this album I was loose, very loose. I impressed Isidro Infante a lot because he saw that I was into it. I would say things like, let's do this again because this is what I want to say and this is how Iíd like to say it. Everything that I sang came from my heart and was said with so much integrity and with a lot of heart. He liked that. He also liked my phrasing. So, I felt that in this album I was more comfortable. I worked harder too.

    George: It comes over really good. Your voice was at a pitch that it should stay at. It has a really nice quality to it. You come off really happy. You're in control and it's coming out, and it's still soulful and you sound happier on the record. Are you happier now? Not too much turmoil in your life at the moment?

    India: Thereís always going to be turmoil in my life when it comes to my mother and sister. Especially when I read articles where they have said something negative about me. I love my family very much. It hurts a lot of my family members to see that. That is the only turmoil I have in my life. Besides that, I'm fine. I have to thank a lot of the people that are always by my side protecting me. They love me and are keeping me together. I thank my family in Puerto Rico. I love that they always receive me with open arms. That kind of stuff means a lot to me. Here in New York I have an aunt that I love dearly. My grandmother died on my birthday and it has just been so hard to deal with. That's what has kept me together for ten years working hard, learning to look for love and how you do that is by finding God, because God is the answer. God is the one that you have to thank for every day of life. He is the one. I have been through a lot of trauma and pain as a result of my career. What has made me strong and kept me focused is my belief in God.

    George: Do you feel that you could mend fences with your mother and your sister?

    India: Not for a long time. Not for a long time because they hurt me a lot.

    George: You are an icon for women now, especially Latinas.

    India: You know why I'm an icon? I'm an icon because I've been through so much. All this I'm telling you, picture how many men, women and children are going through the same thing. If we want to better ourselves as human beings, it starts at home. The love, the respect, and equality. I'm talking about love in a equal way. I'm not talking about, if you give your child an ice cream cone you have to give your other child an ice cream cone too. Your discipline starts at home. If you don't have that at home you have problems. Like Princess Diana said, "I swam when I was in the royal house, because I was a real human being. I have flesh and bones and I felt things that they didn't feel. So, when I went into the royal house I was either going to sink or swim for my life, and I swam." I can relate to her because in this world you either swim or drown, especially if you come from a dysfunctional family. I came from a very dysfunctional family. I'm not going to sit here and lie to you. I believe that as a result I have gained the strength to sing with feeling and integrity on a good or bad day. The people know that I am just like them. They know I went through the same things that they have gone through. That is why they see me as an icon, because they see me as someone that they can learn from and that they can follow. They can say, if India did it I could do it too. That's important.

    George: Do you accept that role, being a leader for women.

    India: Yes I do. I am very proud of it. The only thing I am not proud of is the male bashing stuff. Practically all the male bashing songs are given to me. All the women that are coming into "salsa", they're all going to do the same thing. It's just making us look like we hate men. I don't like that too much because I love men. I have been surrounded by men all my life. I have had good and bad relationships. That does not mean that I hate men. All the songs that I've sang have been so aggressive. Iím looking to keep it calm and collected in the near future, so that people can hear me sing about things like love and other things that have touched my heart and soul as opposed to always letting a guy have it. I sing it with such feeling and conviction that people think I'm going through it. People don't realize that I have gotten a divorce and still remain friends with my ex-husband. There are so many rumors because of those songs. People think Iím filled with so much anger. I'm really not filled with anger. I'm filled with a lot of love, but I got attitude and I love to sing songs and act every scene. If the song is about love then sing about love. If it's about sex? It's about sex. But if it's about me setting the room straight, I have to for the sake of the song. There are also a lot of songs on my latest album about love such as, Si Tu Eres Mi Hombre. That's the way that I feel right now. I got a "Spring" love in my life right now with a great fellow by the name of Luisito Quintero and I can't complain about life. I am the type of woman that needs to be with a man. I got to be with only one man. That thing about rock n' rolling from one sack to the other, that's not me. I'm too old fashioned that way. I think I came out like my grandmother. If something doesn't work, I'll stay alone. If a good fellow comes into my life, I'd like to open up my arms and receive them with open arms. I do those songs because there are a lot of women that love them. They love to hear them. They love to hear me sing them. As long as Iím getting these good compositions with attitude and something to say, itís fine with me. Like Mi Mayor Venganza, that one is great. That one is about the best friend that stole the husband from her best friend. So, she is telling him "mi mayor venganza es que tu te quedes con el." I like that kind of stuff. I love that. It's very exciting for me as an artist. It keeps me together.

    George: It reflects the Hispanic community in a way also.

    India: Yeah, and people talk about it.

    George: Some people don't want to talk about it, but they got to hear about it. I'm going to give you a couple of names of female singers and I want you to give me your impression. Celia.

    India: I love her. She is like my favorite. I wish that women could learn from her. She is the type of woman that loves what she does. She breaks her back to please people and has maintained herself for so many years with discipline and respect. She doesn't use her sensuality to get what she wants. She uses love and sweetness to show the people the appreciation that she has for what she loves to do so much. I think that women should learn from that because nowadays women use their bodies to make it. I don't respect that. I think the reason she is such a big influence is because of the way she is. This is the type of environment where you have to be aggressive. You can't be sexy, you can't go in there with a miniskirt showing your butt and tits. You have to put on your boxing gloves and go in there and swing. Be aggressive and give love, but be professional. I think that she is great because she's the type of lady that she wears her skirt but underneath her skirt she wears pants. I love that. She gives so much love and sweetness to people and she gets it back in return. She's been an influence throughout my career. I have been on stage with her where it's five o'clock in the morning and everybody has gone on and she is the closing act of the show. It's five o'clock in the morning, we're in Colombia and she still hasn't gone up on stage. She is falling asleep in Pedroís arms and shoulders. Then she goes on and forgets about how tired she is. She turns into a bundle of love, light and fire. It's wonderful to see that happen. Many years can pass by and you'll always remember that. You never know when you're going to close the show. It teaches you how to be professional. She is a role model. If I'm a role model because of my pain and my struggles, I think that she is even a bigger role model for the fact that through years of love and dedication to the music, she has maintained herself and that's so beautiful.

    George: Albita?

    India: Albita is interesting. She has this folk thing happening. I don't consider her a "salsera". I consider her a Cuban interpreter of Cuban folk music. I saw her show once and I think that she gives off a good vibe on stage and she surely has a good group of people behind her.

    George: Brenda K Starr?

    India: I have nothing against Brenda. I know Brenda for many years. I know Brenda has been struggling for many years in the dance world and never quite had that big hit because she was always trying to be too pop, when she should have been recording Latin Hip Hop. It was like you never heard from her again. She is also known because of the Mariah Carey situation. Mariah was a background singer for Brenda because her mother used to give Brenda vocal lessons. Then Mariah made it while Brenda stood behind. What happened with her, I think, even though she doesn't want to admit it, is that she saw Marc Anthony and La India just blow up big time. So she decided to try it because there wasnít anything else happening for her. We had several conversations and she told me she wanted to do "salsa". Now I didn't think that people would try to compare us. When her first record came out everybody thought that it was me. They would play it on the radio and people would call me and ask if I had a new record. The record company knew how to manipulate that situation very well. A lot of people thought it was me. Then when they realized it wasn't me, it was a whole different story. She got played on the radio here a lot. She cannot complain. Big time payola here in New York City. I think that live, people can feel the difference. The clave is something you got to feel. I wish her all the best. I know her for many years, but when I started hearing on the radio that she was the new "Queen of Salsa" that turned me off. I feel that her record company, as well as all the other record companies, should have respect for Celia Cruz. Let's have respect for that lady. It has been too many years that she has been hanging and she's the Queen. I think that people should have respect for that. I think that record companies have got to learn that if you're going to push other artists let them shine with their own colors and don't use other artists that ya pertenecen en un lado del corazon del pueblo. I'm saying, girls you got to have your own style. Work on your own style. It's OK to go out there and make noise but learn the music. Mira, yo tuve que pasar una escuela tremenda con Eddie Palmieri para aprender esa clave. You're talking about down beat which is dance music, all the stuff that is out there is down beat, like the opposite of that is up beat on a 2 - 3, 3 - 2 clave. Not to mention all the other claves that exist. That is something that you have to feel, you have to be born with that. But right now, statistically speaking, record companies are not looking at that. They're looking at the numbers. They're looking at "man if she looks good we can put her in a video." They're not thinking about live performances. They're not thinking that people are going to go check it out. If it doesn't happen. If you just stay there and your voice drowns...si tu te pierdes en la clave una vez, it's over.  This thing that "India doesn't support the up and coming singers" is not true. I'm happy that there are women coming into this business, but it turns me off to see the kind of tactics that their record companies are using for these girls to make it. They are losing the whole concept of this music. It's not so much ass and tits these days, it's the voice. If you got a good voice and you're going up there with the clave, y la clave esta ahi adentro y tu tienes conocimiento, entonces tu te puedes parar y puedes cantar con un Jose "Cheo" Feliciano o un Oscar de Leon. Pero si tu no tienes conocimiento que vas hacer cuando esos monstros se atrepan a cantar contigo? Te vas a quedar ahi chupando un deo, sucking on your thumb saying, oh my God? What am I going to do now? That's what the major record companies are forgetting. That is what I don't respect. Let's forget about all of this payola [stuff], tu tienes que guapiar en esa tarima. La clave esta ahi, the rhythm section is going, so are those horns. You have to go up there and sing. Phrasing is important to la clave. That's the essence that we are losing. People used to criticize Eddie Palmieri and criticize all those legends that talk like this. Now that I am in this business Iím learning and growing and becoming aware of it. When you sit back and listen to what these legends are saying, it's true we cannot lose the essence of this music. We can experiment. Pero nosotros no podemos perder lo que es la clave y lo que es ser salsera o salsero y tener conocimiento de la salsa. Yo creo que las disqueras estan perdiendo eso. Y por eso es que yo respeto mucho a Ralph Mercado. Porque tu crees que yo estoy con Ralph Mercado? Yo no me voy a ir a otra disquera que no sepa nada de la clave, que solamente piense en las ventas.

    George: So, is India in the "salsa" arena for good?

    India: Well let me tell you, I like it here because this market has been very good to me. I have had a lot of success. There have been a lot of jealous, envious people that have tried to put me down. Being stronger than the hate and having to deal with that at home, I've sort of learned that it's always going to be like that. Even if you try to do something good in this industry people are going to try to bark at you and put you down. But if you really believe in who you are as a person and you believe in the people and you believe in the appreciation that these people have for you, you will succeed. The day that you turn your back on them you loose it all. You loose the essence of living, everything. So, I feel that this is the time right now where I can't let the people down. They see me in this industry. They love what I am doing. For as long as they want me to do more I have to do more. Because if I don't do more and suddenly I leave and I do an English album everybody will be asking, "where is your salsa album?" Now, when I do a salsa album everybody is like where is your dance record. So, I always got to keep my foot here and there. I have to thank God that I can think as fast as I work too. I have been sort of like one of those artists that can keep it going that way. I can hang with African Americans like you wouldn't believe. They love me like you wouldn't believe. European people love me because they know I've got soul. I might be Puerto Rican and from New York but I want you to know that I know guaguanco, I know about salsa, I know about bomba, I know about merengue and I know what time it is with music because we are so lucky when we are raised here. Our ears and our hearts are open to all kinds of music. It's our choice.

    George: I hear you. In closing, what would like the readers to know? What would you like to leave the readers with?

    India: Well, I think that it's important for the readers to know as Latinos.

    George: This is not just a Latino thing.

    India: First of all I like to thank them for supporting me and my music throughout the years and for allowing me to be frank and open. I would like to thank you for allowing me to express myself and talk about things that I ordinarily wouldn't talk about because I am always so afraid that someone might take it wrong or think that I am being negative in some kind of way. In fact I am a very positive person. I really would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to let the public see a different side of me. My most important goal at this moment is to continue opening doors for women. If somebody can learn from my experiences, my pain, my hardships, and maybe feel that if India can be that way and think that way and look for God and be positive, and realize that they can also, then it was well worth it. A lot of people forget that we might be artists, but we are also human beings. We all go through the same things, trust me. God uses us as instruments so that we could somehow, someway touch someone or maybe heal someone through our music.

    George: With that said, thank you for being so open with us.

    India: Thank you so much. I hate that we had to talk about these things. I don't like to give opinions about people like this, but people have to know the truth. I think that ordinarily a lot of people have to be fake about it and lie. I don't want to do that.

    

    George: Itís like they say, the truth shall set you free...

 

 


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