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It's official: Miami's own Gabriel Castillo is the one and only Gaby Gabriel. With an assist from entertainment lawyer Richard Wolfe, the 43-year-old percussionist/vocalist induced Sony Discos to back down and change the name of their Gaby Gabriel, a 25-year-old Dominican merenguero named Humberto Gabriel Lantigua.
The Cuban-born Castillo, orchestra director and lead singer at the Fontainebleau Hilton's Club Tropigala on Miami Beach, girded himself for battle this past September, after he learned Sony Discos had released an album by an artist who called himself Gaby Gabriel -- the very same stage moniker Castillo had been using ever since he moved here from Tampa in 1985. The Miami-based Latin-music subsidiary of the Sony Corporation had mounted a big campaign to promote the CD Solo y Con Ganas (Alone and with Desires), and its single, "Ay! Mami," was enjoying good airplay locally and in other Latin markets across the U.S. When Club Tropigala audiences began requesting the song, Castillo took action. He called Sony to complain, but no one called him back. So he called a lawyer.
"Sony's stepping on my ass!" he fumed in a November 9 New Times story. At least two executives at the record company, Castillo asserted, knew full well there was already a Gaby Gabriel when they released the record; he had worked with them back in the late Eighties. "These guys should have told this kid, 'Hey, we like your stuff, but you're gonna have to get another name,'" Castillo told New Times.
In early December, Sony called Richard Wolfe after the attorney had threatened to sue, and a settlement was worked out. From now on, Lantigua will perform as Gaby L.
"We told him not to mention Gaby Gabriel ever again," says Miguel Estivill, Sony Discos's A&R manager in Miami Beach. They decided on Gaby L, Estivill explains, because "Lantigua is too long, and besides, antigua means old-fashioned. And we found out from our lawyer in New York that nobody's using that name now." Sony also paid Castillo an undisclosed amount to compensate for alleged loss of income because of confusion over his stage name. A source familiar with the matter estimates that the payment was about $5000. While Castillo and Wolfe say the money wasn't nearly what they would have liked, the central issue was always the name. "That's all I ever wanted," Castillo declares. "Just stop him from using my name. I feel sorry for the kid, really. He's just trying to make it in the business. I think he should call up my lawyer and sue Sony for hurting his career."
Castillo says his career is going better than ever, thanks in large part to the dispute. There was a recent two-page, photo-studded story about "The Original Gaby Gabriel" in Estrellas, a weekly Spanish-language magazine. In addition, his story was told in the nationally distributed fan magazine TV Novelas, El Nuevo Herald, Exito, and on Spanish-language radio. He says he recently turned down a recording-contract offer ("I would have had to cut one CD every year for three years, plus give them 30 percent after all expenses -- it would have made me like their slave") and that he's quite satisfied with his supper-club gig.
Lantigua's handlers at Sony are still coping with name-change fallout, with DJs introducing Gaby L cuts by reminding listeners that he used to be Gaby Gabriel. "We had to change everything, posters, all the press releases. We sent a letter to all the radio stations stating that the guy's name is Gaby L," says Estivill, who estimates that re-identifying Lantigua cost the record company about $4000. "It's not too much, but when an artist is starting, everything counts. We spend a lot of money with recording, photographs -- it's like an investment, and we don't know what's going to happen. Fortunately, everybody's getting used to the new name, and we're going into the studio pretty soon for a new album.