american idol artandculture

Hennessy Privilege Presents: Brenda K Starr and Eddie Santiago

Tuesday, May 24, 2016 Jennie Velasco

The legendary voice behind the classic, "I Still Believe" came to Chicago on the heels of a new EP release.  Brenda K. Starr says the 5-track album is set to be ready later this summer.  Hennessy allowed HalfStack to attend a private dinner to honor both Brenda and well-known salsa singer, Eddie Santiago.  The private event was held at Nacional 27 where we had the opportunity to enjoy a casual conversation with her along with some good eats and drinks.

To refresh your memory, Brenda's signature song hit no. 14 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 back in 1987.  If the song "I Still Believe" sounds familiar, Mariah Carey had produced a cover back in 1998 for a compilation album to honor Brenda for being responsible for launching Mariah's career.  Brenda K Starr had various appearances in the 80's that included a cameo on the indie bboy flick Beat Street and a notable song, "Sata" for the movie Lambada. Her work was best known in the freestyle music scene that originated in New York, also Brenda's birthplace.  Freestyle, mostly being popular in the 80's and early 90's, still gets a lot of attention in urban communities.  A now largely underground genre, old fans of freestyle are warranting more and more shows that include their favorite freestyle artists such as Stevie B, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, Sa-Fire, and Rockell just to name a few.  Its not to say that some of these artists don't produce hits any longer, but as the time progresses so does music trends and radio airplay.  Brenda continued to create freestyle albums until 1990 but in 1997 she released a primarily salsa album, Te Sigo Esperando.  This successfully expanded her audience and helped her become a significant Latin pop and salsa/tropical artist.  She later collected Grammys, earned hits on Billboard's Latin/Tropical list, and would reinvent "I Still Believe" into a salsa hit. 
Fast-forward to this moment where I am enjoying a casual evening with her, and she discusses a few of the struggles of why its a little more challenging to produce albums without the support of a record company.  "Record companies aren't what they used to be anymore and they don't just pick up (artists) as quickly.  Your  money has to stretch through photo shoots, have to be your own manager, producer, distributor, consider how your packaging your album.."  She even went on to mention the significance of having a strong social media presence and how you solely rely on this.

A valid point.  Since the massive and controversial merger of EMI-UMG, and a response to a more digital age in music, small-time start ups are often bludgeoned by bigger companies, and these bigger companies support less artists, give deals to less artists, and put huge restrictions on album releases and contracts.  Naturally, these veteran artists need to work twice as hard.
On the upside, Brenda expressed quite a bit of excitement for this new EP that will include her now signature salsa sound and a few ballads.  We also could not go on without mentioning how Brenda's daughter, Gianna had been (thankfully) presented to the world via American Idol.  Since her presence on the show, Brenda sounded like a proud mom on how this is starting to mold her into a really good kid.  She mentioned an instance where Gianna was invited to a community event just to make an appearance.  Near the end of the event, Gianna took her time to speak with her fans, sing a song and stopped to take photos.  Brenda noted her commitment in this seems to be panning out well for her daughter.  Post Idol has Gianna working with a well-known producer who has worked with artists such as Usher, Alessia Cara, and Tori Kelly to put together an album with possibly some duets. 

*insert mini freak out here*

Later our conversation turned into how music has the capacity to draw out emotion.  She spoke of how she had worked in after school programs to help kids build confidence in their artistry, master their craft, and essentially gain some exposure for them.  That being said, every time I spoke with her, I heard "I Still Believe" on repeat in my head and had some significant memories from that time of my life.  It filled me with nostalgia and had me missing the days of riding in the backseat of my cousins car, getting into trouble, and my cousins buying me my first freestyle mixtapes.  Simpler times.  Before I knew anything about heartbreak, I knew about suffering in love just by listening to old freestyle and house music.  Of course, only to know the suffrage later in life and still remembering songs such as the one Brenda K Starr is best known for. 

Its rare we get the opportunities to speak with some of the artists from our past, but I had paid attention to her speaking voice, and how it in no way sounded like how I envisioned considering the high-pitched falsetto that was repetitiously sounding off in my head.  I confess to having not listened to more recent albums so I couldn't tell you if it was variably different from what I remember.  Her performance the following evening was held at a new venue The Arena Live, where almost an entire community was flooded in a traffic jam of faithful Brenda and Eddie fans with lines that circled the parking lot to enter the building.

The massive audience of well over 1000  people was entertained by opening acts El Bandolero and the band La Obra that sang some salsa covers of pop hits.  Thanks to Hennessy Privilege lounge that allowed me to be spoiled by some specialty cocktails, I was able to enjoy the entire show with a great view and plenty of space for me to get down.  DJ's also spun in between acts with a combination of salsa, house, and a combo of pop song to salsa music well into the late hours.  Thankfully Brenda K Starr kept me energized with her fabulous set where she donned a super hot black body suit.  Her fans danced where they could and sang loudly.  And it was hardly singing, the crowd almost roared in song with their favorite artist.  Her voice was flawless and again brought me back to the backseat of my cousin's crappy Subaru listening to her jams.  A surprise (and short-lived) cover of Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You" was the intro to the salsa version of "I Still Believe" is really what truly blew me away, and ultimately had me believe that real talent is ageless, knows no bounds, cannot be confined to a single title, and can last a lifetime.  Music is veritably the soundtrack of life. 

Check out Brenda K Starr's Facebook Page for more updates!

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screenname: jenniejovegas

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