December 5, 2004
BY LAURA EMERICK Staff Reporter
Mexican superstar Alejandro Fernandez titled his latest disc “A Corazon Abierto” (“An Open Heart”), and that’s a bit of an understatement
Maybe “an open book” would be more like it. The son of ranchera music legend Vicente Fernandez, Alejandro has always lived in the public eye. At age 5, he made his film debut in “Juan Armenta, El Repatriado” (1976), which starred his father. Later that year, in his concert debut before an audience of 10,000, little Alejandro got confused and started to cry, but papa Vicente came to the rescue. (The crowd cheered them both.)
Fast-forward two decades. In 1991, Fernandez released the first in a string of platinum-selling discs, and eventually became an international sensation, thanks in part to his exposure through a series of telenovelas (Spanish-language soap operas) for which he sang theme songs, including “Maria Isabel” (1997), “Infierno en El Paraiso” (1999), “Derecho de Nacer” (2001) and most recently “Nina Amada Mia” (2003).
With his albums, Fernandez has negotiated a different kind of crossover, from traditional Mexican ranchera to Latin pop, and managed to remain to true to both.
And this year, he crossed over into yet another realm: movie stardom. He won the coveted title role in Alfonso (“Like Water for Chocolate”) Arau’s biopic “Zapata” (in which he plays the Mexican revolutionary hero).
Shortly before “Zapata” hit the theaters, Fernandez separated from his second wife, Ximena Diaz, and issued an open letter to the media to clarify details of his messy love life because he “doesn’t want to talk about it in the press.” But then he reversed himself and appeared on the television talk show “Don Francisco Presenta” and discussed his marriages, affairs, his recent vasectomy (he has five children) and, yes, that open letter.
“A year after a difficult separation with Ximena, I can now say my heart is open,” Fernandez wrote in his letter, issued in August. “But like any other person I have the right to meet friends and women until I find happiness.”
Aside from the “Alfie”-like shenanigans, Fernandez remains a compelling and productive talent; somehow amid the turmoil of the last year, he managed to release five discs: the double live sets “En Vivo Juntos Por Ultima Vez” (with his his father) and “Un Canto de Mexico, En Vivo Desde Bellas Artes”; “Nina Amada Mia,” the soundtrack to “Zapata” and the pop album “A Corazon Abierto.”
In his first local engagement in three years, Fernandez will perform Sunday at the Rosemont Theatre. In between tour stops, he took time to discuss “A Corazon Abierto,” “Zapata” and other topics:
Q. Since 2003, you’ve released five discs and also made your leading-role film debut. When do you ever rest?
A. [Laughing.] Yes, it has been quite a year. Usually I like to take some time off, but I also feel it’s important to come out with a pop and ranchera album once a year.
Q. You’ve called this album an “X-ray of myself” and your most personal album ever. Could you elaborate?
A. Yes, it’s a photograph of my life, and definitely a reflection of my spirit, my essence. I really identify with each song. Not that I’m actually going through all of that now. …
Q. Why the four-year gap between pop albums, especially since you had such success with your previous efforts “Entre Tus Brazos” (2000) and “Me Estoy Enamorando” (1997)?
A. It took time to prepare; we needed quality time to pick the right producer and writers.
Q. Why did you decide to go with Kike Santander, now somewhat controversial because of his feud with Latin music mogul Emilio Estefan (Santander accused Estefan of not giving him proper credit on their collaborations), as the producer of “A Corazon Abierto”?
A. Kike is one of my good friends; every time I release a pop album, I like to work with him. He’s my good-luck charm.
Q. Is it true that Santander gave you 100 songs to sift through for this disc?
A. Yes, he brought me a lot of songs, and even the worst songs for him were really, really good.
Q. How did you select the songwriters for “A Corazon Abierto”? There are some unusual choices, including Leonel Garcia of the Latin pop duo Sin Bandera, Colombian singer-songwriter Gian Marco and Reyli Barba of the Mexican group Tres de Copas.
A. It’s the first time I’ve worked with any of these guys. I think they’re among the greatest songwriters in Latin America. You can hear for yourself on the disc.
Q. Do you worry that your association with Santander will lead others to believe that you are taking sides in his feud with Estefan?
A. On my last pop CD, I was working with both, but really the one making the arrangements was Kike. When they broke off, I had a meeting with them and I told them that their differences were not my concern, that I wanted to continue working with both of them, either together or separately.
Q. Some of the best songs on “A Corazon Abierto” are the tropical Latin-flavored numbers. That might seem like a surprising move for a regional Mexican artist, but you display a real affinity for Caribbean rhythms. Would you ever consider doing an entire album with a tropical Latin theme?
A. This was basically the first time I was exploring with the tropical sound. After I finished “A Corazon Abierto,” Sony Discos [his longtime label] asked me to do a salsa version of “Me Dedique a Perderte” [the album’s first single]. I think it worked out well, and I would like to do more.
Q. The Rosemont show will mark your first Chicago appearance in three years — why the long layoff?
A. I’ve been so busy with my many projects, and then when [his manager] Ralph Hauser died [at age 42 of a heart attack in early 2003], we were left up in the air. Slowly a great team is being formed, and now we’re ready to go.
Q. You’ve played Las Vegas several times recently, and the state of Nevada even declared Sept. 15 this year as Alejandro Fernandez Day. Do you see Vegas as an expanding market for you and Latin music in general?
A. It’s marvelous. I’m super happy with the way I have been received there. Las Vegas is one of those bridges to the world, not just to the U.S. [mainstream]. This was my second year there. Caesars has requested informally for me to perform on a regular basis. I would like to return as long they’ll have me.
Q. Las Vegas has often been regarded as the place where entertainers go to die. In many minds, it will be forever associated with Elvis in his white jump-suit phase, when he was on the way out. Do those sorts of associations bother you?
A. As you know, as a ranchera artist, I perform in the charro costume (the elaborately decorated suit that Mexican cowboys first adopted in the 19th century). In earlier times in Vegas, performers and audiences were used to extravagant acts, but now that’s changing somewhat. But I identity with those times. The charro is definitely a spectacular art form. In Vegas, wearing the charro suit, I fit right in.
Q. Vegas has become a mecca for entertainers of every music genre. Who are your favorite performers, (aside from your father, of course)?
A. I’ve seen Celine Dion three times; she’s one of the greatest, a marvelous singer. I’ve also seen Madonna there. Las Vegas is the capital of the spectacular.
Q. Are you satisfied with your performance in “Zapata”? (The film opened in May to scathing reviews in Mexico and has yet to pick up a U.S. distributor.) Considering that you spent so much time researching the role — over two years — and invested so much of yourself in the part, the reception must be especially wounding.
A. It was definitely a great experience, and I’m very satisfied, despite the criticisms. As for doing more acting, I’m definitely open to do more projects.
Q. Over the years, you’ve collaborated with several superstars, starting with your father, of course, and continuing with Gloria Estefan, Shakira and even Placido Domingo on the 1998 “Christmas in Vienna” disc. In concert, you’ve covered works by Mexico’s legendary singer-songwriter Juan Gabriel. Could you please somehow record a disc with him?
A. Ralph Hauser was trying to set something up with him. [Hauser was also Gabriel’s manager before they had a massive falling out a few years ago.] But after Ralph died, we haven’t talked more about the possibility. I would love to do it, Juan Gabriel is one of the greatest talents in Mexico and one of my idols.