In the recording industry, a picture can be worth more than a thousand words. For Puerto Rican model-turned-singer Shalim, a picture in the hands of Emilio Estefan, Jr., was worth a recording contract.
The son of singer and comedian Charytin and television producer Elin Ortiz has been in front of the camera for most of his life, beginning his career on the Puerto Rican television series Los Angelitos at age six. Seven years later he moved with his family to Miami, attending a series of local private schools, including Gulliver, Belén, and St. John Neuman, before heading to the Dominican Republic, where he won "Model of the Year" in 1996.
His mother encouraged him to develop his voice, contacting José Miguel Velazquez, a Venezuelan vocal coach and songwriter residing in Miami. "He had been turned away from a few record companies," Velazquez says of his protégé. After six months of training, Velazquez thought Shalim was ready for another go at the music biz -- so he called a photographer.
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More than the demo Velazquez produced for Shalim, that man-child look got the model through the door of Estefan Enterprises. "Emilio loved the photos," Velazquez recalls of the mogul, who agreed to make Shalim a star. "More than the demo, it was the photo he liked." Estefan was so pleased that he wanted to meet Shalim immediately, which was easy to arrange since the anxious young man was downstairs in the Enterprises parking lot, hiding in the car. "And that's how everything happened," observes Velazquez. "Everything that today is Shalim."
At 21 years old, Shalim still looks barely pubescent. Publicity photos have him in childlike poses, sitting cross-legged on the floor, reclining with his hands unselfconsciously thrown behind his head, or standing with his open shirt revealing a baby-smooth chest.
"Emilio and I talked about how no singer was doing this Oriental thing," says Velazquez of the concept for the album, "and with the name Shalim it fits." Middle Eastern accents flirt with flamenco guitar on the thirteen pop tracks of Shalim's eponymous debut.
Shalim sees the album as a group effort. "There was a team of producers and writers who started formulating the basis of the sound and the lyrics." That team included veteran hitmakers Larry Dermer, Randy Barlow, and Jon Secada, as well as Velazquez. Shalim found working with the team a learning experience. "I monitored the whole development of the album," says the rising star, shifting seamlessly from the technical to the sentimental. "I was looking for all the parts that touched my heart. It's so important to make sure that what you give to the public is what makes you feel something."
For now Shalim's sound is as youthful as his looks. His voice seems natural in falsetto on his first hit single, "Nadie Como Tu" ("No One Like You"), but sounds a bit frantic when heard at a higher bpm on the Spanglish club remix by Thunderpuss. He has better control on the flamenco "Gitana" ("Gypsy Woman"), where the vocals have a synthesized fullness. Perhaps the most successful track is the first song Shalim recorded at Crescent Moon Studios, "Mentira" ("Lie"), a languorous lament where Shalim doubles himself in an electronic echo on the chorus. "There was so much chemistry," he says of that first session. "It's just about letting go."
If Shalim is still feeling his way into musical maturity, he already knows what he wants to be when he grows up. "I'm going to write more and who knows," he ponders, "even produce one track or something. I believe that I finally found the fusion of music that I was looking for." For the moment he has certainly found the fusion of music we will be looking at.
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