Thursday, April 30, 2009

Superstar reaches out to Latinos

Latino markets tackled by Celine
By Peggy Curran, Vancouver Sun

Celine Dion is learning to roll her Rs and soften her Ss for a Latin American audience.

She conquered the Plains of Abraham in French and cashed in big at Caesars Palace in English.

But before pop-music diva Celine Dion salsas across Latin America, she could use a tutorial in rolling her Rs and softening her Ss in Espa├▒ol.

"For someone who doesn't know Spanish, her pronunciation is actually pretty good," says Enrique Pato, a Hispanic studies professor at the Universit├ę de Montreal. But he says there's still room for refinement if Dion wants to try livin' la vida loca and boosting her fan base south of south of the border.

After more than 20 years in the business, Dion isn't exactly suffering. Reigning queen of the five-octave ballad, she performs before sellout crowds from Calgary to Cape Town. She has sold more than 200 million albums worldwide, recorded in seven languages (English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Japanese and Latin) and has online fans gushing in Polish, Thai and Dutch.

But Pato can't help thinking about the even larger audience she could have just by brushing up on her language skills. So, in the latest experiment blending mainstream culture with academic scrutiny, he asked 14 master's and PhD students to spend part of the winter semester examining Dion's four Spanish-language recordings: Amar haciendo el amor, Aun existe amor, Mejor decir adius and Sola otra vez (the Spanish version of All by Myself).

Students in Pato's research group on Spanish in America, a mix of Quebecers and students from Spain and Central and South America, studied Dion's diction, suggesting she practise pronouncing Zs more like Ss and take time to roll her Rs.

But they also analysed the way songs had been translated and considered other songs and poems that would add mileage to her Spanish repertoire. Says Pato: "She could record an entire Spanish record and garner great popularity among Latinos who remain an unconquered market."

For Pato, a Madrid native who came to Montreal after post-doctoral studies at the University of Western Ontario, the exercise provided a welcome opportunity for students to make the link between their academic pursuits and real life.

He said the research group is sending its findings to Sony Records in hopes it will forward the suggestions to Dion and her manager-husband, Rene Angelil.

Even if that doesn't happen, Pato believes the project was a good learning tool, allowing students to think and talk about pronunciation, translation and literature in an inventive and invigorating way.

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