Dane Dances Welcomes International Salsa Vocalist Luisito Rosario Singing with Heart & Mind
While excelling ar a salsa vocalist, Luisito Rosario has kept a level head by keeping his day job to support his family. His wife is also his road manager.
By Jonathan Gramling
It was almost like Luisito Rosario — an international salsa vocalist who will perform at Dane Dances — could hear the great explosion of salsa music during the 1960s and 1970s as he watched from across the Hudson River in Hoboken, New Jersey. And at the same time, he was absorbing all of the sounds in his hometown.
“Latin music was always around although when we were growing up, we were listening to Free Style Music,” Rosario said. “And also at home since my parents spoke Spanish, we had traditional folkloric music at Christmastime. That was more or less seeded or planted into my brain, the typical music from Puerto Rico called Jibaro music. Hoboken was like a melting pot of different types of music like Italian and Spanish. We had a lot of different types of music playing.’
It was during his teen years that Rosario started focusing on Latin music, especially after he moved to Allentown, Pennsylvania where he was working at a university. And the flame for Latin music and salsa was lit one day when he was singing to himself.
“I was singing a cappella and a friend of mine said, ‘Well you have a pretty good voice,’” Rosario said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ But I didn’t know that I could learn a song or learn 10 songs, study them, and within two days, I would know them from top to bottom. And then there is the aspect for being in salsa music, you have to be what is called premo sonero, a rapper. You have to invent some of the lyrics as you sing in between the chorus lines.
bottom. And then there is the aspect for being in salsa music, you have to be what is called premo sonero, a rapper. You have to invent some of the lyrics as you sing in between the chorus lines. That’s something you have to have a knack for or you would study it and listen to the artists of the 1950s-1970s and try to get your own style according to how they did it and then you pick up your own. But from that point on I was like, ‘Okay.’ So I tried out with a local small band. They were like, ‘Hey, you have a pretty good voice.’ From that point on, it was just history up until today.
Rosario established himself in the salsa world the old fashioned way: he worked hard and kept moving up from one band to another to get where he is today. But of course, he got his major start with a little help from his friend.
“A DJ friend of mine, Larry Harlow and his friend Nia were making a big concert at that time in Stabler Arena,” Rosario recalled. “They were bringing Marc Anthony and all of the big guns. My DJ friend told Larry, ‘Hey a friend of mine sings.’ I didn’t know who Larry Harlow was because I was young. When I went to the first show and my friend was a big salsa fan said, ‘Oh my God, you’re here with the big guys.’ Fania All-Stars was like the ultimate band in Latin Music and 65 percent of the musicians were a part of Larry Harlow’s band. I started with him and the rest is history.”
And what a history it has been.
“I learned the knack of being a sonero, which is an improviser and learned the aspect of the business,” Rosario said. “I just learned to absorb the other singers. I was sharing the stage with the major singers. I would see how they would operate and how they would work the crowd. Larry Harlow, the trumpet player, was forming another group called Group Hechizo in New York City. They had two singers, but they needed one more, so I started with them. That’s when I started traveling with hem. And in the midst of that, being in Hoboken visiting my mom, there is another group called Los Hermanos Moreno, which was huge. I was welcomed by the presentation and they asked me to sing. And so I started touring with them for five years. But in the midst of all of that, I always had my own productions. I took my own production and I signed with Mambo City Records. I started a solo career. But I stood with Larry Harlow and myself because Larry Harlow was internationally known. And so I worked my way up with Larry while always putting out my singles and productions.”
As a sonero, Rosario had to learn to think on his feet, being in the moment of each song so that he could ad lib while creating a song that made sense and was in harmony of the rhythm of the music.
“You’ve got to think because as you’re singing, depending on what the chorus is saying, you have to make up and improvise and then at the same time, have a melody and also rhymes,” Rosario said. “You are also rhyming in Spanish. Being that I was born and raised in New Jersey, my dominant language was English. At home, we spoke Spanish. And so it was a little bit more difficult for myself versus people who were born and raised in Puerto Rico, Colombia or Venezuela where all they spoke was Spanish fluently. It was a little harder for me. But for example, if there is a person in front of me with a red shirt, I would make up a verse about the person who has the red shirt. And so it is a story within a story. When you create a song, you more or less take a voyage. In that song, it’s like a soap opera. You are doing the song and then in the midst of passing all of the major story, you start making up other stories within the story. But you have to keep with the beat and you have to make it rhyme and you have to make sense of it. And you have to have a melody. It’s not as easy as people think. Every time, it’s a learning experience because with the vocabulary of Spanish, you have to have books on words that rhyme and then words that make sense. And the other aspect of it is that in different parts of Latin America, one word in Puerto Rico could mean something totally different in Mexico. At that point, you have to be careful that what you are saying isn’t something vulgar or offensive to someone because in Puerto Rico it doesn’t mean that.”
As he rose in the international salsa world, Rosario never lost his head. He always kept a day job to ensure that his family was well taken care of. Rosario’s wife is also his manager. And now that the kids are grown, Rosario and his wife are seeing the world.
“Between her and me, we’ve been traveling the world,” Rosario said. “We get paid for it. We don’t have to pay anything. And we get to enjoy our lives. I’ve been to Europe so many times and Japan and France. Most people in their lifetimes maybe travel 5-6 times. My wife and I have been so fortunate through the music that we have been able to travel the world because of it.”
While COVID-19 put a halt to the performances — Rosario and his wife transformed their backyard into a “resort” — the live performances have begun once again.
“Europe was amazing because it’s good to see that the music is opening up again,” Rosario said about his recent tour. “People are wanting more live performances. That’s one of the things that the pandemic did. People missed that live presentation of the musicians, the solos and being there able to enjoy music. Now when you are there, people are coming out. ‘We missed having you out there.’ And I’m a people person. I’m always with the people. And I’m always up close and personal. And people are into all my music. They knew what I was playing. They knew my new single. It was really, really nice to know it’s still out there. I’m still in the game per se, major.”
On August 19, Rosario will bring his salsa act to Dane Dances. He will be using local musicians as his band. He will come in on Wednesday and by Friday, they will be set to entertain.
“I experiment with them so that they can get out of their usual routine,” Rosario said about the local musicians. “When I come in, I throw everything all over the place and it’s like, ‘Okay, you have to follow me. When I give a cue, you have to do this and that.’ And they love it. People say that it’s about the singer. I say, ‘No, it’s about all of us. I’m the singer, but without you guys, I am nothing.’ We all shine in that aspect. And that’s what I do all over the world when I have local bands back me up. I make sure they shine because they put a lot of work and energy into learning my music. It’s not easy to learn one of the tracks that took 6-7 months to record. And then you have to go in and in 2-3 rehearsals, learn the whole repertoire. In this case, we are using Alfredo and his band. It’s going to be a really, really good night. It’s going to be fun. I’m going to make sure that we all have a blast 100 percent.”
Rosario guarantees that people will have a great time.
“When I perform, depending on what type of crowd I have, I can either go on the romantic route or I can go the uppidy, uppidy party route or I can do something in between,” Rosario said. “It’s just bringing our culture and our traditions to different parts of the world, which for me is a major blessing. And don’t forget your dancing shoes. Don’t forget to bring your energy because 100 percent you are going to have a blast. It’s going to be like taking you back to Puerto Rico and you are hanging out next to the beautiful beach in Puerto Rico with Latin music flowing through.”
On August 19, the Rooftop of Monona Terrace will be transformed into a tropical, melodic paradise. Join the fun.