Thursday, October 14, 2021

Elsie Muniz: The "Urban Latina"

Towards the end of the 90s and going into the new millennium, it seemed that most pop artists had at least one Latin-sounding song on their album (Toni’s “Spanish Guitar”, Mariah’s “After Tonight” et al). Though the sound wasn’t exactly new in the U.S., where I was in Britain this was pretty much a new thing for us. Sadly though, it was always a little too geared towards pop music and artists such as Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez. Despite the market for Chicano Rap and Hip Hop music, there was never really much of a demand for R&B and what was even worse, some artists such as Elsie Muniz, felt that they needed to explain why they weren’t like everybody else. The intro on Muniz’ album speaks volumes at how narrow-minded some of these labels were: “Growing up I had a lot of exposure to different cultures…I think the diversity of my upbringing helped to mold me as an individual. It’s me being Latin and growing up in a black neighborhood (that) was a blessing because it helped blend two worlds together…I just hope that the public can hear all these things through my music…” Of Puerto-Rican decent, Muniz grew up in a traditional Latin family but wanted her music to reflect “everything she grew up with.” Unfortunately, it seemed that her label wasn’t entirely comfortable with this. Muniz was one of three female R&B artists signed to A. Haqq Islam’s University Records label, whose biggest success story back then was Dru Hill, but not feeling the need to explain why as Latina she was singing R&B instead of striving to be the next Selena, she moved on pretty quickly and her album “Urban Latina” was never released. We were fortunate enough to find a cassette sampler last year containing some of these lost tracks but until now the full project had never surfaced. It had been cataloged on Discogs for about a year wherein it was said that it had a limited digital release in 2008 but I have thus far found no proof that it ever was. Formally hearing Brandy’s version of “Fooled by The Moon” when it leaked back in 2009, I have always been curious about Muniz’ version and about Mya and Terry Dexter’s involvement on it. Originally written by Diane Warren, I am unsure about who recorded it first but Brandy’s version was said to be cast off from the recording of her sophomore album “Never Say Never” in 1998. Brandy’s version was a typical 90s Babyface production but Elsie’s version stays true to her Latin roots with both Mya and Terry Dexter each taking turns in singing. Timbaland’s “As We Danced,” with Muniz’ sultry vocals and infectious hook, was also a possible follow-up single that never was. The album is predominantly very upbeat with hard-edged beats and Latin guitar riffs throughout but the one exception to the rule is the blues-soaked “Oklahoma City” with the great Terry Dexter. Altogether a very colorfully promising debut album from Muniz, who along with Sierra, was a superior product to J-Lo. Why the label was so hung up on making it an issue of race, I’ll never know.

Interlude    0:17
You Drive Me Crazy    5:07
As We Danced    4:29
La Gata Negra (The Black Cat)    4:14
Take Control (Feat 1 Life 2 Live)    4:57
Does She Know    3:36
Your Eyes    4:12
Lost With You    4:41
Fooled By The Moon (Feat Mya & Terri Dexter)    4:21
What If    5:54
Giving Up On Love     3:48
Oklahoma City (Feat Terri Dexter)    4:29
Tus Ojas (Your Eyes Spanish Version)    4:13

Muniz with Nino Brown