Gilberto Santa Rosa, the bolero lover that conquered the salsa music
He was raised amongst designers, especially to the rhythm of his father´s drawing strokes. His father strived himself making a living out of a few engineering projects. His mother was one of the first IBM computer operators in Puerto Rico. Tito Rodriguez was one of the most extraordinary singers of all times. Tito was his main musical inspiration as a child. When he had the chance, he used to enjoy his performances at Palladium in New York.
The 3-time Latin Grammy awarded salsa singer Gilberto Santa Rosa who also holds an American Grammy prize is known as “The Salsa Dance Gentleman”. He got passionate about the Caribbean rhythms at an early age. He was so determined to become a salsa star that promised his mom that he would buy a Japanese Pagoda-like house located on McCleary avenue in San Juan – PR. His inspiration, Tito Rodriguez had bought this house for his wife as proof of love, but Gilberto Santa Rosa wanted it for his mom too. Finally, his dream came true. His office and Tito Rodriguez museum are both currently located in the house that he would always dreamed of. Personal items, tons of microphones, and Tito Rodriguez´s original records are now accessible to very close friends and family only.
At that moment, Gilberto Santa Rosa was considered a salsa singer celebrity. He is actually well recognized in the Latin music business by many of his songs. His main two hits “Perdoname” and “Conciencia” led him to stardom. However, he started off at an early age, he said; “I used to get together with a close friend called Jesus “Cheito” Cruz, he played guitar and was the lead voice and I was his backing vocals. We formed a kid duet that quickly became quite renowned in music programs amongst local schools. We became celebrities instinctively”.
He was just 13 years old when he got seriously realized that music was meaningful for him. He then decided to enroll in a music school (Escuela Libre de Música). He did not want to actually learn how to play an instrument, but more importantly to make some connections in the music business. He said; “I met Mario Ortiz Jr. and then his father. In 1977, I had a great opportunity to be part of a Mario Ortiz & Son production called Salsemble Borinquen Flame, where I recorded some good songs such as Palo de Caña Brava, Los Rosales and Regálame tu Amor”.
He recorded “Satisfaction song” with La Grande Orchestra. It was great hit and granted him the chance to perform in some shows in New York. He worked along with Tommy Olivencia for about 3 years and they both released “Rumba a Los Santos” that was his actual first hit ever. In 1981, he got involved with the Willie Rosario Orchestra and participated in 6 productions with Bobby Concepción. “There were some difficult times for the salsa business, merengue music appealed much more to the public”.
Tito Rodriguez´s apprentice and fan of Frank Sinatra was very dedicated and wanted to achieve a good diction and phrasing. His ultimate goal was to become a solo singer, so at that moment, reaching the highest level in music was his number-one goal. He went to Ralph Cartagena, a music producer who gave the first chance to appear as the lead singer. “El Bolero (romantic soft Latin music) was my big love, in fact I would dare to say it was love at first sight to me. Singing was all I knew and made me think that I was meant to be a singer in my life”, He said. As usual, he was well-managed. In 1992, he happened to work with the Sony Vice president, Ángel Carrasco who gave him the chance to cover some of the record label´s hit songs. He was also privileged to sing along Celia Cruz at Telemundo TV show in her honor. Gilberto once said: “There are certain singers that I look up to and sometimes seem to be unreachable, but I think I have been a lucky guy”.
He worked shoulder-to-shoulder with the song writer Raphy Monclova on a commercial-like song, afterwards he shared it with Rubén Blades. He remembered; “We met in New York and we went with the flow sort to speak. All went as planned. Blades is very detailed oriented, especially when recording the song in the studio”. Although, he does not consider himself an actor, he had a great opportunity to work with the best of the Puerto Rican film industry, one of the most important figure of such a business, Alexis Valdez. He said; “I encountered a problem when I read the book, I only saw two characters in most of the scenes, it was then when I realized it was a big challenge for me, but I risked it all. I think I did well. I am very pleased to see how positive the public reacted to my performance”.
Gilberto said that he has gone through tough times, but he has never had a stormy life. “I had to work really hard and built my career little by little, but was never close to misery. I never felt rejected by the public, and have never tried drugs in my life. I am a demure social drinker, I might say”. That is how that little dreamer became a singer and he indeed made it. He feels proud of himself and fulfilled. Therefore, in his 40 years of career, he is presenting a fantastic tour leg that starts in Dominican Republic where he has received a lot of support from local fans. He claims that he is a particular fan of Dominican Republic, not only because his wife is Dominican, but also that Quisqueya The Beauty has been a remarkable market in his musical career.