If one were to ask what Desi Arnaz, Celia Cruz, the Beatles, and Pink Floyd all have in common, one answer might be: Jorge Moreno. Taking on disparate childhood influences, the Miami-born singer-songwriter spent the early 2000s infusing the Latin music scene in the United States with his bilingual mixture of 1950s and 1960s pop, rock, ballads, boleros, and urban and Afro-Caribbean rhythms.
Born on April 23, 1975, in Miami, Florida, Jorge Moreno was the son of Antonio "Tony" Moreno (a veteran of the Latin music industry) and Melba Acosta. His parents emigrated from Cuba to Miami during the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, bringing with them an eclectic musical background. In the 1970s and 1980s, Tony Moreno operated several well-known salsa labels. His mother, Melba, was a huge fan of 1950s and 1960s pop and rock acts such as The Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Cuba's Los Zafiros. While he didn't talk until age three (and wouldn't speak Spanish until even later), Jorge Moreno's intense musical interest and nascent singing voice would have him "sometimes imitating salseros and sometimes Frankie Avalon." One day, he picked up a guitar decorating a wall at his grandmother's house, restrung it, learned the basics, and started composing his own songs.
Moreno's parents separated when he was 13 and were later divorced. His reputation as a problem child who was always getting into fights got him expelled from several schools as a teenager. At this time, he was most interested in punk and alternative American rock music. "Then I had my gothic phase, and I still love a lot of those bands," he told Hispanic Magazine. "But, the thing is, I was rebelling against conformity and what was popular. But the time came when I realized I was becoming as closed-minded as the people I was rebelling against." In his late teens, he began to discover classic Cuban crooners such as the legendary Beny Moré. This renewed interest in Latin music would yield an unusual mix that wasn't necessarily welcome on Miami's conventional Latin music scene.
In his junior year of high school, Moreno joined two friends in a musical trio that melded all of these musical influences into a "a Latin Beatles-ish sort of rock." The band broke up three years later and Moreno left to study film and photography. In the meantime, however, he continued to compose and improve upon his guitar-playing skills. In 1996, upon deciding that he wanted to dedicate his life exclusively to music, he began recording demos—off-the-wall creations containing "Arabic music, hip-hop beats, and even a bit of Pink Floyd." He spent the next five years making demos, which he reportedly sent to record executives in pizza boxes in order to get their attention. Experimentation over this period forged a new sound that mixed these varied musical interests with the sounds of the 1950s that he had grown up with. ""If you take [sic] Beny Moré, Paul McCartney, and Portishead, placed them in a car, and shook it up a bit, that would be my sound," Moreno would later tell LatinStyleMag.com.
Moreno got a break when EMI Music Publishing took him on as a songwriter. It was then that he caught the attention of Madonna's Latin music label, Maverick Música, and hooked up with established producers Lester Méndez, A.T. Molina, and Andrés Levin. The result was Moreno's slickly produced debut album in 2001. One review referred to Moreno as "a fascinating, occasionally almost surreal melding of traditional and modern Latin styles, '60s Top 40, B-movie soundtrack music, '90s synth pop, alternative rock, and even a little hip-hop, the album defies easy categorization." The album's bicultural mix of disparate musical influences took the United States-based Latin music industry by storm.
"Not since Santana has a U.S.-based Latin performer captured bicultural sensibilities in such a seamless, accessible and original way," stated a review in the Los Angeles Times. "Moreno might even manage to put Miami on the musical map after decades of mediocrity from the so-called capital of Latin music."
Despite a singing style reminiscent of that of other Miami-based crooners such as Enrique Iglesias, "Moreno starts out Enrique Iglesias enough, but after a few bars the first track … morphs into a traditional son, then back to Latin power pop again. As the tremulous vocal fades at the end of the song, the accompanying tres gives way to a single desultory guitar," wrote the Miami New Times.
Using his training as a film student, Moreno produced his own music video for the pop ballad "Despertaré," but couldn't get further funding from Maverick for a second video. In response, he produced a bare bones video for "Mi Sufrimiento" (My Suffering), consisting of a single shot of the artist at home, with the streaming subtitle "Madonna owns my label .. Maybe I can get her to be in my video."
After years of relative anonymity, Moreno became an overnight sensation with a sui generis version of the song "Babalú," popularized for American audiences by the late Cuban-born artist Desi Arnaz, who was best known for his role as Ricky Ricardo on the 1950s television comedy I Love Lucy, in which he starred alongside his wife, the famous actress and comedienne Lucille Ball. Moreno knew that he wanted to pay tribute to the song on his first album, and he later appeared on the CBS I Love Lucy's 50th Anniversary Special, hosted by the children of Arnaz and Ball. His appearance on the program sparked public interest in an artist previously unknown to the greater public.
In 2002, Moreno won the 2002 Latin Grammy Award for Best New Artist, and in 2003 his album Moreno received a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Pop Album. Despite mainstream success and the "pretty-boy pouty" look of his album cover, Moreno has often used the word "alternative" to categorize his music. "I consider myself part of the Latin alternative music movement, but I haven't been totally accepted by them," he told Hispanic Magazine.
Despite his successes, it was reportedly difficult for Moreno to find audiences nationwide and to get his music heard regularly on the radio. In a poorly attended 2002 concert at the Los Angeles Conga Room, one fan walked up to the stage and crumpled his play list, reportedly to get the artist to "forget about the past and come into the here and now." The artist nonetheless offered up four new songs, which would presumably appear on a long-awaited second album.
In late March of 2005, Moreno's website announced that his second CD was in the works, with the song "Avión" expected to hit the airwaves within a matter of weeks. Two demo songs from the new album were faithful to his Latin and British pop sensibilities. In the meantime, he had sporadic live performances scheduled for universities in the South.
For the Record …
Born on April 23, 1975, in Miami, FL; son of Tony Moreno (a record company executive) and Melba Acosta. Education: Studied photography and film in the mid-1990s.
Composed and performed for rock/pop band in high school; songwriter for EMI Music Publishing, 2001; released Moreno, 2001.
Awards: Latin Grammy Award for Best New Artist, 2002.
Addresses: Manager—Wilhelmina Artist Management, 300 Park Ave. South, New York, NY 10010, phone: (212) 271-1606. Record company—Maverick Records, website: http://www.maverickrecords.com. Website—Jorge Moreno Official Website: http://www.jorgemoreno.com. E-mail—[email protected].
Moreno, Maverick, 2001.
Hispanic Magazine, April 2004.
Los Angeles Times, December 9, 2001; October 2, 2002; April 21, 2003.
Miami New Times, December 27, 2002.
"The 45th Annual GRAMMYs Round-Up," Grammy Magazine,http://www.grammy.com (February 12, 2003).
"Jorge Moreno Madonna's Maverick," LatinStyleMag.com,http://www.latinstylemag.com (March 25, 2003).
Jorge Moreno Official Website, http://www.jorgemoreno.com (March 25, 2005).
"Latin Grammy singer comes full circle," Herald.com,http://www.herald.com (March 25, 2005).
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