Q&A with Robert Clivillés: “I wanted to express ‘Latinism’”

In celebration of Latinx pride and culture, one half of C&C Music Factory Robert Clivillés recently produced and released upbeat, evocative vibe song “Yo Soy Latino (Vamos a Bailar)” by Latinos Del Mundo, accompanied by an equally nostalgic music video. NYC Tastemakers sat down with Clivillés to talk about the release of this soon-to-be Latinx anthem, “Latinism,” and his life and legacy in the music industry.

Q: What was the inspiration for your song and video release of “Yo Soy Latino” that essentially celebrates Latinx culture and heritage?

Robert Clivillés: When I came out in the 90s, I came under a group called C&C Music Factory. We had a worldwide smash, “Everybody Dance Now,” and that went number one all around the world and they became a successful pop group, which led me to work with Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, George Michael, Michael Jackson, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and as I gained that start at a young age, it was always important for me to reflect my land heritage how I grew up – I always wanted to make something that represented that.

Back then, I did a record called “Robbie Rob’s Boricua Anthem,” which was my first record that that was something to represent where I came from. I was reading in the magazines back then, I would see “R&B group C&C Music Factory” or “pop group C&C Music Factory.”

Then, I took time off. And now, many years later, my 14-year-old son walked up to me one day and said “Hey, dad, you know I’ve been around, and you’ve never made music ever in front of me. It would be awesome if you could show me what you did.”

So, when he told me that, I told him that I’ll make some music again as long as he executive produces it with me. I told him that I need [him] to use that good taste and when I get to the studio, tell me if [he] likes it or [he didn’t]. I’ll take that into consideration and then I’ll make it part of what I do and that’s kind of what started this whole project. When I started this, it was very important that I wanted to do something that would make me happy. At this time in my life, I want to make music that people envision being a celebration, that have meaning, and that’s what inspired me to start. That’s where the whole inspiration came out; it has to represent celebrating being Latino, as a dancer, as a musician, as a singer, just that, and that’s kind of where this came from: just one big celebration of everything and anything we do being Latino.

Q: Why do you think that this song is so important to many people of Latinx descent?

RC: I grew up in a housing building with five people sleeping in a bedroom, dreaming of the American Dream, I don’t think that’s changed [for people] even now at my age, my kids I think that it’s become even more important now because dreaming has never left as part of being as part of being, of existing. You do want to succeed and be happy and I think that succeeding these days or being relevant has been misdefined; we’ve dropped just the simplicity of living, cooking, dancing, being with families, playing an instrument – having that fun that money doesn’t buy – that is way more satisfying than you being by yourself in the beach with champagne being successful.

I just wanted to make sure that this song reminded all of us as Latinos that if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Family celebration never goes out of style, it never gets corny. What our families and our friends in the Latino community teach about success in life is, at the end of the day, to celebrate being who you are stop trying to be who other people portray in magazines, and TV, and movies; just that good, old fashioned, yet still a modern and simple Latino.

Q: What does the release of this song mean to you? And the video?

RC: The release of it is an awesome thing because the feeling I was making a statement and being able to touch others is important when making music. I’ve lived a long life so far and I’ve been rewarded with learning the difference between a materially successful life and living and a poor life, and this video and song are so important because it represents those old days of celebrating with your family. And when you look at that video you can remember weekends with your aunt and uncle or your family during the holiday or celebration, and it started off that simple but now it’s become a worldwide thing right everyone wants to be Latin suddenly – everybody wants to be in on the thing. But it really comes down to living in a daily life in the neighborhood with your family and friends, and that’s kind of what was important for me.

I did this record two years ago, it’s not something that I did like last month, so it’s funny that In the Heights got released the same weekend. The musical has the same vibe [as the song], and they were both done years ago.

But what makes [the release] important is the message is to inspire people to not change your identity, celebrate being Latino. In the video, I wanted to display a party yeah, but a party that would be respected musician-wise, that will be respected dancing-wise in all shades of Latino. I made sure that it wasn’t just what everybody sees out there thinking it’s Latin. I wanted to make sure that the entire color race was represented; the musicianship was represented, the dancing was represented, the fashion was represented… it was it was from young to old, so the important thing was just that really give something to display to the world in all dynamics and I wanted to express ‘Latinism.’

Q: Can you give me some insight into your start in the music industry?

RC: I created a group called C&C Music Factory that ended up selling about 15 million records worldwide and about three no. 1 worldwide records in pop, dance, and urban. Then, that led me to work, write, and produce for Mariah Carey – I wrote a couple of hit songs for her: hit songs “Emotions” and “Make it Happen,” and with Mariah Carey, we sold about 50 million records. I was also led to work with Whitney Houston on the Bodyguard, I did “I’m Every Woman” that ended up selling 45 million albums. And then I worked with Michael Jackson, and did a song called “Black or White” that did well.

We’ve won five American Music Awards, five Billboard Awards, five MTV Awards, and a Grammy under C&C Music Factory, then we won a Grammy for best album on the Bodyguard album, and we’re responsible for selling 250 million albums worldwide, 50 million singles worldwide and dozens of worldwide awards

Before then, I operated on the two monikers when we see the music factory, which C&C stands for Clivillés and Cole.

Q: I hear that, prior to the release of this song, you took a break from music. Can you talk about this sabbatical?

RC: I’m going to safely say I took a sabbatical for 20 years – that’s pretty wild. What made me take a sabbatical is that David Cole, my partner [in the business], and we had become so successful, and we were working seven days a week for so many years that when my partner got sick in 1995 and I knew that he was dying, it was just one of those pivotal moments that reminded me that life is short. And when I sat there in his last two weeks of living, it hit me hard that so much work, so many hours, so many accomplishments, so many records sold, so much money being made, so many awards being won, and my partner is going to die at 32 and never enjoy it. That hit me emotionally, and between that hitting me emotionally and me remembering the simple life of being that way with my mother and dad and weekends, making pernil with arroz con gandules, and having spice ham and cheese sandwiches, being simple, playing dominoes… Those two things hit me at the same time: him not being able to live after 32 and that I haven’t had that type of fun of that old way of growing up.

It just hit me, and I said that if I was in that bed, I would feel sad that I spent the last 10 years of my life trying to be the most successful person in the world, and I didn’t get to enjoy it and that clicked in my head. Six or seven months later, I met my wife and she was that person that helped me decide to take a sabbatical and it wasn’t until my son said that we should make some music and that he would love to see what I do, so I said, you know what, I will take a shot; let’s see what happens.

Q: What do you find to have been your biggest musical success during your time in the industry?

RC: [“Boricua Anthem”] is one of my top ones. “Everybody Dance Now” is the biggest one and the biggest record I’ve ever had, the most money-grossing that I had… It’s 30 years later, and that record is still all over the place, but “Boricua Anthem” is in even play for me.

When people ask me what my favorite records are, I say “Boricua Anthem” and “Gonna Make You Sweat [Everybody Dance Now].” The reason why is because when I did “Boricua Anthem” in 1995, nobody ever did that a record like that. “Boricua Anthem” is the first Latin-house crossover vocal record. It was the first time that someone made a vocal record to put out in the American scene and it’s dear because that record came out the year that my partner passed away, SONY dropped C&C Music Factory, during that record being released, so “Boricua Anthem” never got out to being promoted as a pop record because I think that it would have been as huge as “Gonna Make You Sweat” if SONY would have put it out and promoted it. And although they did not promote it and they dropped the group, that record was so strong as so influential at that time that it’s become an underground international classic hit to this day to this day.

Now 25 years later, I’m doing a record with the same vibe, same type of sound, and same type of feeling, but it a chance now for the world to see it, so that’s kind of what’s exciting. What they didn’t do with “Boricua Anthem” and hope that we could achieve the same with “Yo Soy Latino” where it becomes a commercial success for everybody around the world to feel the celebration of ‘Latinism.’

Q: If you were to speak to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps career-wise… What advice would you give them?

RC: What I would advise is that you have to love what you do, and you have to have a focus on always loving what you do and making sure that when you sit down to create that you create from your heart and soul, not that you copy other things because you think that’s quick success. I think that making music is art, so when someone is drawing a piece of art, they have to be influenced, so it’s the same thing with music.

I would tell people that you have to love what you do in order to achieve other people enjoying what you do – that’s what creates true successes, you enjoy what you do, and then other people enjoy it as well. But if you try to just flow with the business, and you just do it that way, that’s the wrong route ­– so that’s the first thing, and then, your dedication is second. You have to have a balanced dedication because should we choose to be in the entertainment business, only 1% of the people make it and 99% of the people never reach the goal of the success, so I would also, as a fatherly advice, say to the have an educational career you know as a safety net. I would never advise anyone these days to just go all in and that’s it, so I usually tell people to go to school and have a career and keep your music as a hobby just in the beginning. If it’s a hobby, then you’re going to create your best product, and when we created best product, that’s what’s going to be successful.

Final thoughts from NYC Tastemakers

In a world in which music has become contextless and lyrically meaningless and where people have lost hope, it is important for music with significance and sentiment to make its way into our music and video streaming platforms and routine. “Yo Soy Latino (Vamos a Bailar)” gives way for people to become reaccustomed to music that celebrates pride in a culture, happiness, and a good kind of longing.

Clivillés said that he was worried about whether younger generations would like this song, but frankly, even the youngest person to have consciousness of music would not be able to sit still when listening to this song. He also said that he would like notable Latinxs to help promote the song, such as Lin-Manuel Miranda and Rosie Perez – so let’s get them on the phone, because this song deserves all the hype.

I give this song an A+ on a grading scale for tickling my heartstrings and granting me the opportunity to remember the Latin music I listened to while growing up. “Yo Soy Latino (Vamos a Bailar)” allows for people, such as myself, to bask in their Hispanic and Latinx heritage. The nostalgic rhythm and overall vibe of the song and accompanying music video gives the person who is desirous of recollecting what Latino music flavor used to be the opportunity to feel young again, or to have a sense of what music in the 90s was like if they are too young to remember. The song’s old-timey and modern, urban vibes are the perfect recipe for reminiscence.

To listen to “Yo Soy Latino (Vamos a Bailar),” visit this link and ¡ponte a gozar!.

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