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By Michael E. Miller
There are two ways to tell the story of Cristian Castro.
The first is the story of the artist who was born in December 1974 to Latin television luminary Veronica Castro, inheriting her penetrating eyes and a voice experts deem one of the most powerful in the world. This is the story of the star with an unbroken string of hits who has achieved everything anyone could ask for without ever having to ask for anything.
Castro was groomed for his reign as king of the Spanish power ballad since the press began pursuing him at age four, seduced by his angelic beauty and naughty behavior. At five he debuted in El Derecho de Nacer (Birthright), a telenovela that in the Eighties was a sensation similar to Betty La Fea. At seven he had his own radio show. At eight he recorded his first children's album. At nine he won two prizes in Mexico as a child actor in theater. At twelve he formed the rock band Deca, while still acting on television. At fifteen he was a soloist in the renowned Ote Festival, singing a song by Sergio Esquivel. At eighteen he released his first record as an adult. From that moment on his triumph as a singer has been unstoppable, selling six million albums in Latin America with twenty-one platinum and fifty-one gold records worldwide. Songs such as "Nunca Voy a Olvidarte" ("I Will Never Forget You"), "Por Amarte Así" ("For Loving You This Way"), and "Mi Vida Sin Tu Amor" ("My Life Without Your Love") became legends in Latin song. He has had the luxury to take time off and study film with Robert De Niro. Wining Mexico's Herald prize for Best Singer in 1995 and the Globo prize for Best Pop/Ballad Artist in 2000 only confirmed Castro's position as a modern god, protected by all the star power of Heaven. He is a permanent fixture on the covers of international celebrity-gossip magazines, and the video for the title track of his latest album Azul (Blue) captures him draped in Armani and Moschino, cavorting in a Golden Beach mansion and at the South Beach club Goddess.
There is another story behind Castro that has nothing to do with the predilections of a privileged destiny but rather with the suffering necessary to sustain his success -- what he calls "an immense nostalgia." For if hip-hop stardom depends on a certain street credibility, the balladeer must deliver a soul as tortured as his lyrics. Castro's reputation as surly with the press and tyrannical in the recording studio stands as testimony to the depth of his sentiments. The higher his records climb on the charts, the more he must suffer to prove his love sincere. "Tears," he explains, "are the mute language of love and the deepest words of the soul."
What makes the voice of Cristian Castro sell in the millions is not just the force, texture, or perfect pitch of his instrument. Instead he cultivates the scream of someone desperately seeking a way to express himself. "In this endeavor I've grown calluses on my soul," he says, resorting in an interview to the same metaphors found in his songs. Which is not to say that he is callous; quite the contrary. "Each one of my interpretations is a petition to be heard," he insists. "I sing to beg an opportunity from destiny."
Playing the most prestigious theaters in the Americas -- Teresa Carreño in Venezuela, Viña del Mar in Chile, Universal Studios in Los Angeles, and the Gran Rex in Argentina -- Castro leads crowds in the thousands through a ritual of pain. He attributes his spectacular suffering to his ability to channel the long-nurtured anger of a child star. A few years ago, he described his delivery of the song "Mi Vida Sin Tu Amor" as pulling the trigger: "Rather than sing it, I would like to shoot it off." Nowadays he says he tries to confine his rancor to his performance. "I learned to transform my anger into a gift," he says, "to feel that it is the root of my greatest joy, my deepest sorrow, and my only bid for happiness. I no longer need to argue with anyone." Rather Castro envisions intimacy on a massive scale. "Each phrase fits my body perfectly," he says of his communion with the crowds, "and I feel that more than an interpretation, letting everything that I am come out through my voice, I give and receive an immense caress."
His latest album, composed and produced largely by Kike Santander, was recorded with a gigantic orchestra, including 48 string instruments, symphonic brass, and an impeccable keyboard arrangement provided by Bernardo Ossa. Unlike his earlier releases, Azul adds to the ballads rock and pop elements designed to appeal to the U.S. market. "Solo," one of the best tracks, weds Castro's voice to orchestration as he soars into the stratosphere on a sustained scale and then dissolves into the strings. On "Ella" the piano fuses with the strings and the crescendo of the full orchestra, achieving an overpowering effect. These efforts confirm Castro's claim that he meant for this production to be a "higher work" that would show how much the singer has grown.
Castro contributed to the writing of "Cupid" and translated "Yo Quería" ("I Wanted"), written by Toto Cotungo. He describes "Yo Quería" as "a ballad that achieves what I've always wanted to say in a ballad." His formula as a composer, however, is not yet completely developed. He is still uncomfortable looking for lyrics, pursuing a language, and he will not be at peace until he manages to reflect or exorcise what hurts inside.
"I am a song hunter," he says, admitting that he is waiting for the moment to release his own more intimate lyrics. In the music he imagines, he says, "tears are revealed as the most sacred liquid." His speech gives a taste of what he has in mind, as he says he wants to capture the "chill of silence that atrophies every bud of passion, even between lovers" and the "pieces that fit together before falling apart and disappearing." In the meantime songwriter Santander best describes the process that lies ahead for Castro as he seeks to unite his singing voice with the scream he keeps inside. "It would not be searching for perfection," sings Castro, his tremulous voice breaking with sincerity, "but searching in the depths where truth is found."
Translated by Celeste Fraser Delgado.