Puerto Rican-born vocalist and songwriter Obie Bermúdez broke through to fame in Latin music with his 2003 album Confesiones (Confessions). The title was an ordinary one for an album of romantic pop, but the story behind Confesiones was anything but ordinary. Prior to the album's release, Bermúdez had worked for several years in a New York City laudromat, and he turned the people and stories he encountered there into songs for the album. Unlike many contemporary Latin vocal stars, Bermúdez has composed much of his own material. With a style mixing romance and down-to-earth realism, he reached the top rank of Latin male vocalists with his subsequent releases.
Bermúdez was born on January 10, 1977, in Aibonito in Puerto Rico's mountainous interior. Bermúdez was exposed early to the idea of making a living through music; his grandfather and father were both musicians, and his father, a Beatles fan, had organized his own rock band. When Bermúdez was 12, the family moved to the Vineland area in southern New Jersey, and later Bermúdez moved on to New York City. A poetry lover, he was writing songs and putting together a band of his own, called Locales, while still in his teens.
In 1996 Bermúdez seemed to be on the brink of stardom; he recorded a demo with Locales and was signed to the major RCA label. The group's debut album, simply titled Locales, appeared in 1998. At this point Bermúdez was working in the dance-oriented salsa style of his native Puerto Rico, and the album found a positive reception at radio stations specializing in tropical Latino styles; the single "Déjame Explicarte" (Let me explain to you) reached the top 15 of Billboard magazine's Latin Tropical/Salsa Airplay chart. This promising career trajectory ended, however, when Bermúdez was dropped by RCA.
Facing a stack of bills, Bermúdez moved back to New York City and got a job at a laundromat near his home in the South Bronx area. He thought he would be there for just a few months, but it turned into a three-year job doing anything that needed doing, including repairing the machines when they broke down. Bermúdez was frustrated at first about putting his musical ambitions on hold, but soon he began to look at the laundromat as a songwriter's opportunity. "Working there with the people, hearing their stories, their sad stories, happy stories—I just wrote about everything," he explained to Ramiro Burr of the Houston Chronicle. "And every time I would feel frustrated, I would just write about it. And basically that's why I decided to call the album Confesiones, because it just talks about all of the experiences that I went through."
Some of the songs on the album were based on people Bermúdez met at the laundromat, including a gay man married to a woman from whom he hides his sexual orientation (not a common topic in Latin pop music). The number-one Latin pop hit "Antes" (Before) drew on the experiences of Bermúdez's sister, whose fiancé had left her shortly before their wedding day. "That song was born in 40 minutes, after I consoled my sister on the phone," he told Isis Sauceda of La Opinión. Another number-one hit from Confesiones was "Me Cansé de Ti" (I Got Tired of You), an unsentimental ballad about the end of a relationship based only on sex. After the release of the album, Bermúdez toured with Latin stars Juanes, Paulina Rubio, and Juan Luís Guerra.
Confesiones and Bermúdez's subsquent albums did not totally discard his salsa style—several of his songs employed a horn section and tropical percussion, for instance—but he began to move clearly in the direction of romantic pop and rock. According to Burr, "Musically, Bermudez blends the dance-rock rhythms of Juanes with the troubadour wailing of Alejandro Sanz. He sounds like Jon Secada but without the oversinging." What set Bermúdez apart from other artists, however, was his ability to write detailed, down-to-earth songs.
For his next album, Todo el Año (All Year), Bermúdez continued to draw on personal experiences and reflections in a set of songs that followed the pattern of those on Confesiones, but added layers of rock guitar and vocal harmony. "The title means year-round," he explained to Burr. "I write about everything and anything," he added. "I'm always looking for my next song. With all the traveling and meeting people and doing this and that, I'm always inspired." The album's title track topped Billboard 's Hot Latin Tracks chart. Bermúdez also kept up his connections with dance audiences in the tropical-oriented "Celos," and strengthened his reputation as a songwriter with a personal streak in such songs as "Maldita Boca" (My Stupid Mouth). The album garnered three Latin Grammy Award nominations, and its victory in the Best Male Pop Vocal Album category at the 2005 awards ceremony confirmed Bermúdez's emergence at the top of the Latin pop heap.
So did the appearance of light celebrity interviews like one in Mexico City's El Norte newspaper, in which Bermúdez talked of his enthusiam for the SpongeBob SquarePants animated cartoon and for the music of the Mexican rock band Maná and of American rockers the Dave Matthews Band. Asked what qualities he preferred in women, he replied that he liked women to be "simple and authentic." Apparently he found those qualities in Texas-born vocalist Jennifer Peña, for the two were married in 2007. Bermúdez and Peña co-wrote songs for her Dicen que el Tiempo album release.
Bermúdez dabbled in potential theatrical and film projects, and then returned with his third solo album, Lo Que Trajo el Barco (What the Boat Brought), in 2006. The album touched lightly on the American immigration debate while still holding to the artist's romantic pop style. Indeed, noted Jason Birchmeier of the All Music Guide, "This is perhaps Bermúdez's greatest strength as an artist: he crafts easily enjoyable pop songs that happen to be pieces of a greater thematic puzzle that comes together track by track over the course of each album." Lo Que Trajo el Barco spawned the Latin top ten hit "Sigo con Ella" (I'm Still with Her), which contained tropical flavors contributed by a group of Puerto Rican and Brazilian musicians. With his career still growing, Bermúdez was not only taking his place in the hit parade of Latin pop male vocalists but was also reshaping the Latin pop genre with his songwriting.
For the Record …
Born January 10, 1977, in Aibonito, Puerto Rico; father was a rock musician; married Jennifer Peña (a vocalist), 2007.
Signed to RCA label, 1996; recorded debut album, Locales, in salsa style with band, 1998; member of band Locales, late 1990s; worked in laundromat, Bronx, NY, c. 1999-2002; signed to EMI label; released Confesiones, 2003; released Todo el Año, 2004; released Lo Que Trajo el Barco, 2006.
Awards: Latin Grammy Award, Best Pop Vocal Album, for Lo Que Traje el Barco.
Addresses: Management—JEP Entertainment Group, Inc., 16027 Ventura Blvd., Ste. 510, Encino, CA 91436, phone: 818-501-9412.Web site—Obie Bermúdez Official Web site: http://www.obiebermudez.com.
Locales, RCA, 1998.
Confesiones, EMI, 2003.
Todo el Año, EMI, 2004.
Lo Que Trajo el Barco, EMI, 2006.
Houston Chronicle, May 9, 2004, p. 7; January 9, 2005, p. 5; August 24, 2005, p. 2.
El Norte (Mexico City), April 25, 2004, p. 11.
La Opinión (Los Angeles), April 5, 2004.
"Obie Bermúdez," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (February 20, 2008).
Obie Bermúdez Official Web site, http://www.obiebermudez.com (February 20, 2008).
—James M. Manheim
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