If there were one word to describe el Sonero de la Juventud, it would have to be loyal.
Víctor Manuelle has been singing the salsa since 1993. And unlike some of his Latin American counterparts who've changed up their style to transition into mainstream pop, the Puerto Rican salsero has remained faithful to his chosen genre for nearly 20 years.
Now el bolero is celebrating two decades of ritmo y son with the Casi 20 tour. So Crossfade caught up with Manuelle just in time for his Miami stop and spoke with him about the art of salsa, paying homage to Celia Cruz, and immigration reform in America.
Crossfade: You've been traveling a lot, making special TV appearances, getting ready for your tour. And yesterday morning, you put on a performance for the U.S. Senate in D.C. How did that go?
Victor Manuelle: It was a tribute from the Senate. And honestly, it was beautiful. As an artist, it's an honor and it's good to know that you are recognized in your journey. I feel very good and happy.
A lot of salseros have changed up their musical style at times and recorded Latin pop albums or some songs in English, but you haven't. Why not?
Although I've had the opportunity to do many things, the public knows that I identify myself with salsa. It's what I love to do and I believe it's my forte.
You're known as el Sonero de la Juventud, but your musical style has been described as salsa romántica or salsa monga. How would you describe it?
I have found a balance with salsa. My music is very danceable and the lyrics have substance. They are very romantic and always contain some message of romance...but the concept of salsa isn't defined by lyrics, it's defined by rhythm.
Your musical career started during a party in Puerto Rico when your friends encouraged you to get up and sing with Gilberto Santa Rosa. How did that happen? What was it singing with the salsa superstar?
It's a story that I truly recall with a lot of love. I never thought of it as an audition. It was something I did for my entertainment. I think I did well because it was spontaneous and I wasn't nervous because in that moment. I just wanted to have a good time with my friends. From there, he, Gilberto Santa Rosa, took me to Sony when no one knew who I was, and I recorded my first album.
What would you consider the highlight of your career so far?
Every moment is important. Singing with other artists has always been very important in my career. Those moments, the public remembers the most. When I [was first starting out] and I was on stage and realized this is what I was going to be doing, that was memorable. Of those moments, one of the most important has to be the tribute to Celia Cruz.
The cover of your latest album, Busco Un Pueblo, which was released last year, looks very much like the Uncle Sam poster. What's the core message of that image and album?
The album is named after the song, "Busco Un Pueblo" ["Searching for a City"]. The song is a critique that calls for unity among Latinos and talks about immigration reform. "Busco Un Pueblo" is like an exhortation to the public. I wanted to create a strong message that would speak loudly for itself.
You're celebrating 20 years of music this year with your Casi 20 tour. How would summarize these last two decades?
They have been very emotional, filled with love and hard work, but they have been very satisfying. I'm celebrating the journey and more than anything that I still have the support of fans after almost 20 years. It's very special.
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What are your expectations for Miami?
Miami is a very beautiful and special city for me. There are lots of Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans, Cubans and it's an opportunity to be united with the public. I want everyone to celebrate.