Today we have famous Puerto Rican Kharim Santos. Mr. Santos, how have you been feeling? We learned that you were in poor health due to Covid-19.
First of all, I want to thank you and all your audience for the opportunity to take a few minutes to share with you and be able to talk. In regards of my health, I have always said that the Lord’s way is mysterious and I contracted Covid-19 despite being vaccinated three times, but I am out of that now and in the process of recovering fully. I am forever grateful to the Lord who gives us new opportunities to live.
During my convalescence from Covid-19, we released a new song entitled Lo Van a Entender and it received wide acceptance, so the Lord always blesses in mysterious ways.
You were interested in music from an early age. Could you tell us about the first memory of music?
I was born in a neighborhood in Puerto Rico called Puerta de Tierra where many important people like Isidro Infante, Joe Quijano, Raphy Leavitt and many other artists have come from. I was born and raised in that neighborhood and my mother, due to his relationship to Daniel Santos “El Anacobero”, received many artists of all musical genres at home like Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez or Ismael Rivera.
Being such a musical family, music was always very important to me because “Bohemian Nights” were held at my place. A group of friends came to my house and sing “Bohemia”. I was very young when I became really interested in music. I remember Daniel telling my mother that I had a lot of chances in that world.
The first time I took singing lessons, my teacher was Juan Luis Barry, may he rest in peace. He was the pianist for Silvia Rexach, one of the greatest poets of our country. I also started taking dance lessons with Leonor Contanzo, who is a very professional dancer in Puerto Rico and it was from there that I started to follow the path of music. This has been a complete blessing because this profession has helped me to go to many places both professionally and personally.
Do you consider that Daniel Santos was some kind of inspiration for starting down this road?
Oh, yes! What I have always said about Daniel Santos is that the new youth does not know a part of his story, but he was like the “Ricky Martin” or the “Bad Bunny” of the time. He was quite unique because he sang any kind of music and felt very comfortable in any genre. No genre was a problem for him because he sang it very well. He was an icon. I will never be able to be like Daniel Santos and have always wanted to shine with a light of my own taking into account the vision he had of music without disrespecting his career. I made a song called Linda in his honor. I believe that Daniel has been a fundamental part of my career and that of many artists.
Besides Daniel Santos, what other artists influenced your style and music?
I will take your question as an opportunity to extend a very special greeting to my friend Cita Rodriguez, daughter of Pete El Conde Rodriguez. Pete was one of those artists who was often on my way home and my mom had a warm friendship with him. I remember his singing, his way of playing “guapacha” (a mix of chachachá and merengue) and that sort of thing. Other artists from the old guard who inspired me were Tito Rodríguez, Rolando Laserie, Santos Colón, Vicentico Valdés and Raphy Leavitt and La Selecta. I bring Raphy Leavitt Y La Selecta up because they used to rehearse a block away from my place.
When Raphy was alive, he told me that Daniel came close to singing with La Selecta and I did not know a thing about it. These were artists who have marked my life. I believe that the artists of the past have marked my life the most, although there are some modern ones I faithfully follow such as Gilberto Santa Rosa and Tony Vega.
However, the best artists for me are Cano Estremera and Tito Rojas because they were both great friends I personally met and their singings were very parochial. They were stars, but their fame has never gone to their heads. They always had their feet planted firmly on the ground.
Is Salsa a thing of the past?
Do you think that these artists and musical genres have gone out of fashion and been replaced by other references?
I think salsa is a genre that has been perpetuated. I do not think it is going to die or disappear. I hear many colleagues who are always saying that salsa is dead, but I think they are wrong. The concept of salsa is a generational thing, but we forget to connect young people with it. We do not teach them the culture of our music and I give the example of Colombia, which is a country I visited on several occasions with Orquesta La Solución and as a soloist. There salsa is widely heard and people think that urban music is heard more than salsa, but it is not.
What happens is that Colombians had made sure that new generations keep listening and watching these bastions of music. Many guys who sing urban music have called me to collaborate with me. Farruko uses a clip of Ismael Rivera for his song “El Incomprendido”. Many of these new artists are looking to salsa because they have realized that it is a very enriching genre and it helps them in their work.
That’s why we have to move on and say thanks to people like you who give us the opportunity to stay relevant and let more people know about us. I also think that we have to be vary careful about our lyrics and what we express. Salsa always distinguished itself for singing about small town stuff happening in our communities and when romantic salsa came, we sang to women with much respect. I think we should be maintained in that area.
If you listen to the music of the new generations, artists go off on such tangents and disrespect women. I think that women should not be devalued, marked out or treated as sexual objects. We have to teach our young people that we can hear good lyrics and enjoy music at the same time.
Anything that has always characterized salsa is to touch on social, political, and cultural issues. They also addressed the topic of romance with much respect, but that has recently changed. Do you consider that the quality of the lyrics is not an important matter in the industry?
I think we have devalued the concept of the genre. I have always said that the artist is like a teacher. If you think of it that way, the artist or singer should be like a teacher who brings the teachings of peace, love, hope and a number of things that you concentrate in your lyrics and music. When you sing positive things, you also generate positive things in people.
I’m going to be straight with you. I have listened to urban music made by friends of mine and wonder how girls can sing that, knowing that they are being denigrated. It’s as if they cover their ears and listen to that music, but are not interested in what artists are saying. Unfortunately, there are many salsa singers who believe that they should do the same as artists of urban music to get the same results. We have lost values and feelings and I do not understand why we have to sing humiliating things to women.
We could not only talk about disrespect for women, but also about promoting crime and drugs.
Yes, it’s like a position of power. It’s about seeing how much power I can express in my songs or videos. In my case, I have focused on stopping my music videos from having anything sexual. A friend of mine who directs videos gave me the idea to make one with a model in a hotel room and I answered that it didn’t work for me. To this day, I am not sure that selling sexuality or violence produces something important in anyone’s life.
What do you and the artists that are of your opinion think you can do to promote positive things?
I think we also have to refrain a little bit and leave our biases behind us and our ‘I’ness. That is part of the problem we have. There are many artists who only look after themselves and think they are the best artists of the world, but I think we have to get out of it and I have been doing this. Many of these artists of urban music have called me to make songs and I have said yes, but I have given them my ideas.
Right now, I am recording the song “La Radio” with Crespo, who sings urban music. We made some modifications to the sing, which talks about this separated couple, but they remember their love when they listen to this song on the radio. That’s a nice thing. We have to educate young people and in so doing, I think that joining them to make collaborations can reform music. We have to help each other.
Do you believe that you can make culture and shape the society we want through music?
Of course I do. Music is culture. I have always said that. Music is the basis of how culture and people move. I believe music has been made to express ourselves, but we have to do it properly. In my personal opinion, we cannot use it in an inadequate manner. I have told many colleagues that the fact that a guy who sings urban music makes a denigrating song does not mean that they are going to have the same success. That’s not how things work.
I believe so much in talent. If you are a talented person, people will listen to you. I had that conversation with Gerardo Rivas, who is extremely talented, but his lyrics are positive because he knows not to denigrate anyone. That is our north. Salsa is culture. I have always said that salsa is not just a genre, but a way of life.
Something that caught my attention in your biography is that you served in the army and participated in certain renowned armed conflicts. How did you combine your military activities with music?
I was in the army and served 23 years. I retired in 2011 after serving 23 years. I was in Iran and Afghanistan twice. I was a combat infantryman and I was able to mix the two things because music help me to progress. There are things missing in the biography because it focuses more on my military life, but I am also a university professor.
There are a lot of things about me that people do not know, but I was able to combine the two things because music helped me overcome adversity when I was in those sites of fighting. I was a nighttime patrol and being in a place where you know you could be killed at any moment for 12 hours is not easy, but music comforted me. During my time in the army, I could also sing with various orchestras and do other activities. It was a great blessing for me.