Zaa, Charlie (Contemporary Musicians)
AColombian bolero singer with broad international appeal, Charlie Zaa got his start by playing with Colombian salsa bands Grupo Niche and others before beginning a solo career in 1996. With his hit debut album Sentimientos, Zaa established himself as a force on the Latin music scene, appealing to both young and older fans with his energetic arrangements of traditional popular music. More than three million in sales later, his first album was still going strong into the 2000s, and Zaa had added to his body of work at the rate of about an album every other year. He has attributed his success, in part, to a force larger than himself. "The bolero has always been and will always be," he told a Los Angeles crowd in 2000, as reported by Ernesto Lechner in the Los Angeles Times.
Charlie Zaa was born Carlos Alberto Sanchez in Colombia in 1974, the son of well-regarded musician Luis Humberto Sanchez. Zaa began his musical career at the age of twelve, when he first sang on stage with his father. At the age of sixteen, he branched out into performances with acts such as Grupo Niche and Guayacan, both well known salsa bands in Colombia.
After establishing himself as a notable musician, Zaa cut loose to record on his own, releasing a single called "Un Disco Mas," which became a hit in his native Colombia. He followed this initial success with other No. 1 hits, including "Flor Sin Retono" and "La Pollera Colora." Zaa released his first full-length solo album, Sentimientos, on the Sonolux label in 1996.
For his solo work, Zaa switched from the salsa he had played with other acts to the more traditional bolero music, for which he would become better known. Boleros, ballads first made popular in Cuba, have been described by Sun Sentinel music critic Enrique Fernandez as "Latin torch songs," and "slowed-down salsa." In Bolero music, songs of romance are most traditionally accompanied by guitar music, but lush orchestrations often feature prominently.
Much of Zaa's solo work took the form of new arrangements of bolero classics by other artists such as Olimpo Cardenas and Julio Jaramillo backed by strings and horn sections. The music pulled on the heart-strings of his listeners with a romantic, unabashedly sentimental quality that touched fans first in Colombia, then in Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland. Sales of the album eventually topped three million copies.
Zaa star quickly rose on the Latin charts, and he followed up his first album with Segundo Sentimiento in 1998. Ciego de Amor came next in 2000, followed by De un Solo Sentimiento in 2001. While the former albums exemplified Zaa's experimentation with a more stylized sound, De un Solo Sentimiento marked a return to Zaa's earlier, more romantic signature style. For this album, he returned to the producer of his first album, Milton Salcedo, and recorded in the same studio in which he had recorded those first tracks. "I'm cooking this dish in the same pot," he told Billboard 's Leila Cobo while he was at work on the new album. Going even further in his effort to recapture the flavors of his first release, he brought in the same session musicians.
The goal of this return to basics was to reclaim the multigenerational base of fans who came to Zaa's earlier work but who dropped away with subsequent releases. Young people, adults, and older people all appreciated the traditional bolero sounds of his first album, which did not feature as prominently in his later work. Segundo Sentimiento was something of a disappointment to Zaa, who later said that the album missed the mark for which he had been aiming.
Zaa was happier with Ciego de Amor, but, he said later, he still didn't connect with the older crowd. With De un Solo Sentimiento, Zaa said, he got it just right. And he would not have gotten there without having recorded the earlier two works. "I wouldn't have felt the need [to change direction] otherwise," he explained to Billboard 's Cobo.
Though filled with unapologetically earnest love songs, by all accounts the new album avoided succumbing completely to sentimentality. Instead, Zaa's keen musical sensibility shined through; characterizing each song was a vibrant mix of strings, guitar, and requinto. Piano accents and understated strains of bolero and mariachi added complexity to the album, praised by Cobo for its "elegant, subtle arrangements." In particular, the mariachi element was greatly aided by a guest appearance by the Los Angeles-based mariachi band Mariachi Sol de Mexico.
De un Solo Sentimiento marked a turning point for the young crooner in another respect as wellt was the last for the record label he had been with since the beginning of his solo career. Sonolux had encountered financial difficulty and inner turmoil, and Zaa's manager, Carlos Orjuela, felt it was best to move Zaa to another label before these difficulties affected Zaa himself.
In 2004, Zaa released Puro Sentimiento on the Ole Music label. Also in 2004, Zaa was stricken with a particularly painful case of kidney stones. At the time he was on a concert tour to promote his new album. He first felt the pain at a stop in New York to play at a festival. Not wanting to end the tour prematurely, he continued on to Puerto Rico to play scheduled concerts there. The pain became unbearable, however, and Zaa finally had no choice but to return to New York City for medical advice. He soon afterwards returned to Bogota, Colombia and entered a clinic for surgery. The surgery to remove six kidney stones was a success and he made a full recovery. He was soon able to return to the road.
In spite of his international appeal and his varied influences, Zaa feels it important to nurture his roots in Bogota, recording there whenever possible despite the trend among other Colombian recording artists to record mainly in the United States and elsewhere. "I don't want to get too disconnected," he told Billboard 's Cobo.
Sentimientos, Sonolux, 1998.
Segundo Sentimiento, Sonolux, 1998.
Remixes, Sonolux, 1999.
Ciego de Amor, Sonolux, 2000.
De un Solo Sentimiento, Sonolux, 2001.
Puro Sentimiento, Ole Music, 2004.
Billboard, April 7, 2001, p. 67; June 16, 2001, p. 48; November 17, 2001, p. 26.
Chicago Sun-Times, May 3, 1999, p. 37.
Los Angeles Times, July 10, 2000, p.6.
Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL), August 1, 1999, p.1D.
Toronto Sun, July 25, 2004, p. 49.
"Charlie Zaa," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (August 31, 2004).
"Charlie Zaa Is Recuperating After Surgery," Top40Charts.com, http://www.top40-charts.com/news.php?ni=8301 (August 31, 2004).
"Colombian Crooner Releases a Collection of 'Pure Sentiments'," PR Leap, http://www.prleap.com/pr_802.html (August 31, 2004).
"Singer Charlie Zaa Has Kidney Surgery," ABCNews.com, http://www.abcnews.go.com/wire/Entertainment/ap20040724_411... (August 31, 2004).