By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
By Karli Evans
By Jose D. Duran
By Pablo Chacon Alvarez
Raphael, a.k.a. Don Rafael Martos Sánchez, a.k.a. Spain's answer to Tom Jones, visits Miami this Friday for the first time in more than four years.
A child prodigy from Linares, Spain, Raphael burst onto the scene in 1954 when, at nine years of age, he won the "Best Child Singer" award at the Salzburg Music Festival in Austria. His Sixties recordings took on varying shades of pop, and at one point he was taken under the wing of Beatles manager Brian Epstein. That association led to his first Madison Square Garden concert in 1967. During those days he was recording under the aegis of EMI Records' Latin imprint, Hispavox, experimenting with such unintended novelty tracks as "Jinetes en el Cielo," a Spanish version of the spaghetti western tune "Ghost Riders in the Sky."
In his homeland Raphael is also known as an actor, though older American audiences would be most likely to recall him from two appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1970. His signature tune, "Yo Soy Aquel," is the "It's Not Unusual" of the Latin music world a passion-dripping lover's promise in rumba time. The song became a running joke during the Puerto Rican governor race of 1984, when then-governor Carlos Romero Barcelo used it in a radio spot to slam his opponent.
Raphael's absence from Miami stages these last few years shouldn't be taken personally. In 2003 the crooner suffered a bout of Hepatitis C, requiring a liver transplant. (He has fully recovered.) In the wake of that episode, he became one of the world's top promoters of organ donation, a cause he'll surely be shouting about from the stage this Friday.