Luis Fonsi: Touring the world while remaining true to his roots
Ahead of his concert on Saturday in Atlantic City, NJ, the world-famous Puerto Rican singer-songwriter spoke to AL DÍA about the intangible international impact of "Despacito," the songs that have been the soundtrack to his own life, the continued recovery process in Puerto Rico after Maria, and more.
Luis Fonsi has had a busy couple of years. Since Jan. 2017, the Puerto Rican singer, songwriter, musician, and producer has achieved a whole new level of international fame with the unparalleled success of the hit single “Despacito.”
Going on month 14 of his worldwide “Love and Dance” tour that has stretched from the Americas to Asia, Fonsi will bring his show to Atlantic City, NJ, this Saturday, Aug. 25, where he is performing with special surprise guest CNCO at Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena.
“I’m just really happy that people are embracing the music and they’re having fun with the shows,” said Fonsi in a phone interview on Wednesday. The singer, who will also be performing at Good Morning America’s summer concert series on Friday, Aug. 24 in New York City, said that the joy of music helps fuel him and his band to keep up the pace.
“You don’t have to make it a point to stay fresh, because it just happens. I guess I’m having so much fun, you just kind of stay in the groove," said Fonsi. "There’s always new music coming out, there’s always new things happening, so the show is always evolving."
He noted that there is also a different crowd at each concert, depending on whether they have been fans who have been there throughout the artist’s 20-year career, or whether they just discovered his work through the worldwide fame of “Despacito.”
“It’s completely two different worlds, so every time I get on stage, I never really know how it’s going to go,” he said, laughing. “You’ll see people there that will sing my old songs and they’ll know them by heart, to the point that they’ll know the choreography of the songs that I recorded 18 years ago, and there will be people there who are going for the first time and they’re saying, ‘Hey, what is this guy all about it? I like his first couple of songs, let me see what his show is all about.’”
Though Fonsi enjoyed success as a Latin Grammy award winner and chart topper before "Despacito," it’s no secret that the hit has placed him on a different kind of world platform. But then again, the catchy, joyful, seductive, and wildly danceable tune which Fonsi in the the past has described as “a love letter to Puerto Rico,” has achieved a level of fame unprecedented for any artist, singing in any language.
In pure numbers, Fonsi’s success with "Despacito" (both the original, all-Spanish version Fonsi co-wrote with fellow Latin Grammy winner Erika Ender and reggaeton star Daddy Yankee, as well as the remix featuring Justin Bieber) is hard to overstate. It was the first Spanish-language song to top the Billboard Hot 100 charts since "The Macarena" 20 years ago, sitting at No. 1 for 16 consecutive weeks and tying for the longest-running No. 1 hit in U.S. history. And that's not to mention that the music video — featuring Fonsi, Daddy Yankee. former Miss Universe winner Zuleyka Rivera, and the Puerto Rican seaside town of La Perla — has garnered the most views (5.4 billion and counting) of any YouTube video ever.
But those are all tangible measurements of the phenomenon of a song that is sung and danced to by people around the world, from one country to the next, at parties and events and on their wedding days. When asked to reflect on the song’s intangible impact, Fonsi noted that having a song that becomes a part of people's lives is what indicates the meaning of music in general.
“That’s just the power of music and that’s what you hope that you can create and that you can cause because of the music. Every time you sit down and you write music, and I grab my guitar and I sit there and I start writing a lyric, you hope that other than just making a catchy song, or even through writing a quote unquote hit, you hope that you can kind of penetrate people’s lives and inspire other people,” said Fonsi.
“My goal as an artist is to really be able to touch people’s lives...to watch little kids across the world dancing to this song and to hear people from dramatically different cultures try to sing in Spanish, in this case,” he said, adding that the ability to “become a part of [the] soundtracks” of other people's lives is another kind of honor, as much as he appreciates the records and statistics that the song has achieved.
“I personally have my songs that have become my soundtrack. Obviously not my own songs,” he added quickly with a laugh. “So it’s cool for me to be a part of people’s lives.”
For Fonsi, the songs that have been part of the soundtrack of his life — which include “anything from Journey songs, probably any Juan Luis Guerra song, Boyz II Men” — have a special meaning because they remind him of his adolescence and teenage years. The singer can still remember what it was like to be the 11-year-old who had just moved from Puerto Rico to Florida, during what he admits was “a tough transition.”
“I mean, I was young, so it’s kind of tough to gauge it, but now that I look back on it, it was really uphill to leave Puerto Rico behind and to come here [to] a new language, a new education system a new school, new friends,” he recalled.
But it was in high school, Fonsi said, that things turned around.
“I kind of locked myself into this groove, met a really nice group of people, did a singing group, became really involved with theater and music, and all of the sudden this move made sense,” said Fonsi, adding that songs like “End of the Road” from Boyz II Men bring him back to those golden days.
But though his move to the mainland proved successful and Fonsi went on to establish himself as a fully bilingual singer, the artist has not left his island behind — the island which fills his voice with emotion when he talks about his will and determination for its continued recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, one of the worst natural disasters in Puerto Rico’s history.
“It’s gonna take years, not months, it’s gonna take years for Puerto Rico to fully recover,” said Fonsi. “The damage that Hurricane Maria did is a lot greater, a hundred times greater than people think, and that the media covered and that the president expressed,” he continued.
“Obviously I don’t have to tell you how important my island has been to me. And how much love I have for that little island. So I just want it to recover...God willing this will never happen again but if something were to happen, I want it to be just as respected as any other U.S. territory, and be able to get sort of that priority that any other U.S. territory would get that we definitely didn’t get this time around,” said Fonsi, adding that he is unsure of the answer to the statehood question many have posed after the disaster because the situation is “so complicated.”
“At the end of the day, my answer is whatever is more beneficial for Puerto Rico,” he said.
Fonsi, who is Puerto Rico’s tourism ambassador, stressed that though “at this point it’s definitely a marathon, not a sprint” in terms of the recovery process, but “as far as tourism goes, the island is perfect.”
“The hotels are open, all the tourist attractions are open, and that was one of our main goals. To make sure that our biggest medicine, our biggest source of income, which is tourism, we could get it back up to where it needed to be,” he said.
In terms of what different musical collaboration and exploration he plans next for his work, Fonsi said, “I never say never.”
“It’s kind of tough when people ask me, how would you explain your genre, how would you explain your taste in music,” said the artist. “And I never really know, I just always say, look, I’m a singer. I’m a singer-songwriter. I write songs and sometimes they’re romantic, and sometimes they’re dance songs.”
“I know I’m not a rock artist, I know I’m not a rap artist, I’m not a salsa singer...There are some things that I know I’m definitely not gonna do, not because I don’t want to but I can’t. I can’t do what reggaeton artists do because I don’t have that talent. I can’t do what Daddy Yankee does, or what Jay-Z does because I don’t have that talent,” said Fonsi.
“But I love urban music...I probably listen to salsa music and urban music more than pop music,” he added.
His new album, due out in October of this year, features Fonsi’s recent three singles of "Despacito," "Échame La Culpa" with Demi Lovato, and "Calypso" featuring Stefflon Don, all of which, he noted, showcase “more of a fusion vibe with some Latin rhythms and Latin urban rhythms, and a little bit of reggaeton and Caribbean rhythms.”
“I just always say that I’m in a constant search of just good songs. And when I get to the studio I don’t limit myself to say, ‘I’m going to write a pop song,’” Fonsi said. “I just want to write a song that people [are] going to be able to sing along with me, they’re going to identify themselves with, they’re going to dance to, and they’re just going to hear it and want to sing it over and over again."
That is one goal that Fonsi has shown he can, without a doubt, accomplish. Over and over and over again.