20 Questions With Gilberto Santa Rosa: New Album, Future for Salsa Artists, & More

For an artist who says music is his passion and the music of others is his hobby, it’s no surprise why Puerto Rican salsa icon Gilberto Santa Rosa released a conceptual album called Debut y Segunda Tanda. Both the Vol. 1 and a deluxe version were produced by his label B2B Music and distributed by Believe.

The “Debut” part of its title, as he explains to Billboard, represents three of his original recordings, such as “Cartas Sobre La Mesaz” — while “Segunda Tanda” pays tribute to emblematic tracks recorded by his colleagues, such as Willie Chirino, Mucho Manolo and Carlos Vives’ “For Sale,” to name a few. 

“The first song that was created was ‘Cartas Sobre La Mesa,’ and that’s the one that sparked the concept of my album,” he says of his first set in two years. “This album came at the perfect timing.” 

Below, read 20 questions with El Caballero de la Salsa, where he opens up about his new album, being from Santurce, Puerto Rico, the movie that makes him cry and more.

1. This is your first album in two years — what’s the concept behind Debut y Segunda Tanda?

It’s simple. My new songs are the ones debuting and the second part is the covers. Half of the songs were originally recorded by me and the other half are songs that other artists lent me for the album.

2. On this album, you pay homage to your colleagues Willie Chirino, Mucho Manolo, Septeto Acarey, Grupo Bahia, Carlos Vives and Alejandro Sanz. Which of these covers was most challenging for you to interpret? 

Truthfully, I identify with all of them, even if they’re not my songs. But I would have to say “Cartas Sobre La Mesa” because it was originally recorded as an urban song. I’ve done tropical and romantic covers, but it’s the first time I did something urban. Even though salsa and urban have a lot of things in common, starting with their origin, this song was the most peculiar for me.

3. Of your original tracks on the album, which is your personal favorite? 

Without a doubt “En Defensa Propia.” It’s a very well-written song, very Santa Rosa. It’s a song made for expression and it gives the album a special touch.

4. Which song from Debut y Segunda Tanda are you most excited to perform live?

I like all of them! Since I select the songs for my shows, I would like to perform them all, because it’s an album I really want my fans to discover.

5. Why did you decide to release this album in two parts? 

The album was divided because I went into the studio and got excited. I realized I had a lot of songs, and we decided to work on the first eight. Besides, time passes by very fast, and a lot of music gets lost in the way. That’s when we had the idea of releasing it in two parts.

6. What’s at the top of your professional bucket list?

I don’t really have a bucket list. Who knows if in a couple of years I’ll focus on that list? But for the time being, I don’t have anything.

7. Who made you realize you could be an artist full-time?

I was six years old. There was a teacher in my school who unfortunately passed away very young, her name was Yenny Diaz. She was a science teacher, but she also led the music classes. She taught us to play the guitar. She encouraged me and taught me a lot. I remember her with great affection. She was the only person, of all the people who gave me a lending hand, who did not see me develop my career.

8. Which would you say is the most emblematic song of your career?

“Conciencia” and “Perdóname.” They are two songs that I have definitely had to sing in all the places since I recorded them.

9. What was the first concert you ever saw?

I started singing very young, so I had access to see almost all the artists for free. But, the first concert I went to which my uncle paid for the ticket was Las Estrellas de Fania — and the first concert that I paid for, where I worked and saved, was to see a great Cuban singer named Roberto Ledesma, a spectacular romantic singer.

10. What artist, dead or alive, would you like to see in concert?

Well, it’s going to surprise you, because I’ve seen almost every artist. But I would like to see John Legend, Alicia Keys, or Justin Timberlake, if possible.

11. How did being from Santurce, Puerto Rico shape your art?

Totally. A large number of musicians and singers who excelled in salsa music came from Santurce. At one time, the heart of entertainment was there including radio and television stations. The atmosphere in general is a very happy sector with a lot of music. I always remember my grandmother’s house, when you went out to the balcony and there was music everywhere, and you were nourished by all that. Being from there helped me with my training, of course.

12. What was the last song you listened to?

When I prepare for my concerts, I like to listen to music by other artists. Last night I was listening to a song called “Adolorido” by a Cuban singer named Tito Gomez who has already passed away.

13. What song or movie always makes you cry?

There is a movie that has it all! It has tears, it has suspense, and even quite a lot of violence but very well used. The first Godfather movie, I’ve seen it like 900 times. I always find something that I didn’t see the previous time. That movie talks about family, and loyalty, it goes beyond being a mobster movie. There are many interesting and deep messages.

14. Do you recall your first job ever?

I’ve always worked in music. I thank music for sustaining me all my life. But, the very first job I had was delivering newspapers for two weeks. The other time, I was a model for a car show. I had to drive one, but I’m usually not a good driver, so it didn’t go very well for me. Those were the last times I worked on something other than music.

15. Besides music, what’s another passion of yours?

I can be a bit boring because I’m passionate about music and nothing else. My work is music and my hobby is the music of others. In the last few years, however, I wasn’t much into going to the studio. For me, the recordings were very tedious, but about five years ago, I began getting involved and visiting the studio every once in a while to record things. That’s why I have many songs for this album.

16. What’s your all-time favorite vacation spot? 

Las Vegas. I love going there for the entertainment lifestyle. It’s a city where there is always something new going on. I’ve seen almost every artist in the residences. I have a good time even if it’s on a bench drinking coffee. It is an interesting desert.

17. Describe 2022 in one word? 


18. With a more-than-40-year career, what’s one piece of advice you would give to younger salsa artists?

A genuine vocation and the stamina to move forward are important. It is not an easy road — life, in general — is not, but today, there is a contrast between all the advances that exist. And that seems to be an advantage, but sometimes it is not, because the competition is even stronger. It is more difficult for people to focus on an artist. So, you have to have the stamina and character to be able to fulfill a dream. There is always a door that opens, there will always be an opportunity, and there is always a person who helps you — but we cannot give up on the first failure or the first “no.” It is hard to start a project and defend it.

19. What’s the one word you always use? 

Everyone knows me because I use the phrase “Caminalo!” At first, it started out as a strictly rhythmic phrase, but today for me it’s almost a philosophy. It suggests going forward, not stopping, the future, and movement.

20. What do you hope to accomplish or experience in 2023?

We are going to start promoting both volumes of Debut y Segunda Tanda, and in 2023, we will begin planning the new tour that we hope will take us to Europe again.

Jessica Roiz