Growing up in Texas in the ’80s, it was almost impossible to ignore the influence of Selena. Even if you were an African-American girl who didn’t speak a word of Spanish. Beyoncé, the international superstar, attributes her avid interest in the Hispanic culture today to those early days in Houston, Texas when she and her best friend, a Mexican girl named Barbara, would listen to the Tejano star and dream of fame. “I listened to Selena all the time,” recalls Beyoncé. And now, audiences will be listening to the American diva sing in Spanish for the first time. After a mesmerizing career as the leader of the pop trio Destiny’s Child and then as a solo artist who won 10 Grammys, the 25-year-old star is reissuing her mega hit CD, B’Day, on April 3 with six new songs sung entirely in Spanish, including “Amor Gitano,” her duet with Alejandro Fernandez which is the theme song of the Telemundo telenovela, Zorro: La Espada y La Rosa. People En Español editor Peter Castro talked to Beyoncé about her bold new move into the Hispanic universe.
Why did you start singing in Spanish?
A lot of my fans are Hispanic and they’ve always told me, ‘you should sing something in Spanish.’ I took Spanish in school but I don’t speak it at all but I thought, ‘let me give this a try.’ At the 2002 Grammys, Destiny’s Child did a song with Alejandro Sanz and before we performed it, we just listened to it a lot. Because we’re singers we just mimicked everything we heard. It was easy for us and we got a great response from it so I said to myself I want to give something back to all my Latin fans but I want to do it right. So I did these songs phonetically, sentence by sentence. And I spent a lot of time on it making sure it was perfect because I didn’t want to disrespect the language because it’s so beautiful. One of my best friends in the world is Cuban so she was the test. I brought her to the studio and told her, “be honest. You have to tell me if anything is wrong” so when she approved it I knew everything was right.
Tell me about working with Alejandro Fernandez
He was so great. He’s very humble, very handsome, very nice, very talented. Oh my God, I was so amazed. His voice puts you in a trance, it has such a masculine, beautiful tone and it’s sexy. I loved his voice. He was there when I did my vocals and I did everything a couple of times to make sure I got it right. But he gave me bits of advice. He’d say, ‘ok, you have to roll your Rs like this.’ And I would repeat him. It was very nice of him.
Why are you so connected to this culture?
For one, I feel connected because family is very important to me and I know it’s important to all my Latino fans. And just the heart and rhythm of the music and the drums and the spiciness it all reminds me of Creole, which is my heritage and where I come from.
Of course another thing you have in common with Hispanic women is your body type
I grew up in Texas with good portions of really good food. I love good food. That’s something that’s never going to change. I try to eat healthy. But I’m not the type of woman that eats whatever she wants without gaining weight because I do, so I have to be a little conscious of everything I eat. But I don’t deprive myself and I actually think it’s more sexy to have a little more curves.
What Hispanic figures have you grown up admiring?
Well, definitely Jennifer Lopez. I completely admire her story of growing up in the Bronx and the success that she’s had and the empire she’s created. She’s a very intelligent woman. I got a chance to work with her on a Pepsi commercial. She’s unbelievably beautiful and talented. Of course Selena. Growing up in Texas, hearing about her all time. I’ve actually performed at rodeos. I know she did that a lot. And she’s close to me because of where I’m from. I’ve also admired Shakira. We just did a song called “Beautiful Liar” and I just think that her dancing and her singing is a very unique style. But more important, she’s the nicest most humble woman I’ve ever worked with. I think the great thing about our duet is that we’re at a great point in our careers, we’re both in our prime and we worked together and it was nothing but positive and effortless. It just seemed like we were long lost sisters. We looked alike and did certain things alike in that video. It’s so weird because we grew up on different sides of the world.
Will you record an all-Spanish album in the future?
I would love to I wanted to see how people would respond to me singing in Spanish and I’m so grateful that people have opened up their hearts to what I’ve done and I would love to. I just feel like I have to learn Spanish because I can sing it I just can’t speak it! (laughs).
Can you believe your voice is heard every night on a telenovela?
It’s something I never imagined. It’s shocking (laughs). Every time I hear it I have to turn my head and ask, “is that really me?” I mean, it doesn’t sound like me because I’m singing in a different language and I say to myself, “this is crazy!” (laughs)