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With 'Macarena,' Los del Rio Are Dancing on Air


Little did Antonio Romero Monge realize when he saw a sexy dancer at a party in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1993 that he'd just stumbled across the inspiration for a song so irresistible that it would eventually have the world dancing and be included among David Letterman's top 10 ways for President Clinton to sabotage the Republican National Convention. ("Replace Dole's acceptance speech with lyrics to 'Macarena.' ")

"Macarena," which celebrates its 52nd week on the U.S. sales charts this week, has become so ingrained in the culture that it is now a between-innings staple at major league baseball stadiums across the nation. At the Olympics, the gold medal-winning U.S. women's gymnastics team danced the Macarena during a post-competition exhibition.

The song that Romero began writing that night in his hotel room--and named after his daughter--is now in its third week at No. 1 on the U.S. charts.

Thanks to a special remix version by a Miami-based team known as the Bayside Boys, the single has sold more than 1.4 million copies in this country, according to SoundScan, and spawned one of the hottest Latin dance crazes since the lambada.

Romero, 48, was at a party at the Caracas home of former Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez when a flamenco instructor named Diana Patricia caught everyone's attention with her flashy dance steps.

"Without thinking, I told her, 'Dale alegria a tu cuerpo,' " he recalls, later using those same words--which translate to "Give your body happiness" in English--to begin the song.

It took only about 30 minutes to finish the song, says Romero, who is a member with Rafael Ruiz Perdigones, also 48, of Los del Rio, a flamenco duo whose popularity was largely limited to the pair's native Spain.

"We're just two simple people, and overnight success hasn't changed us a bit," Romero says by phone from Spain. "If this had happened to us earlier, we might have lost control. We've seen a lot of promising careers fall apart because of that, but after 33 years in this business, you learn what's real and what's not."

Los del Rio's original version of "Macarena" was released in Spain three years ago and quickly went to No. 1 there. Its popularity then spread to the rest of the Latin pop world and beyond--from Germany to Lebanon. Estimated sales of various versions of the song total more than 5 million worldwide.

"The original 'Macarena' had many children [alternate versions], but they're all 'Macarena' and we love them equally," says Romero, who was born and raised in the industrial town of Dos Heranas, Seville, just as childhood friend and partner Ruiz was.

The song started off slowly in the United States when first released in the original Spanish version as part of Los del Rio's "A mi me gusta" (I Like It) album in the fall of 1994.

"It did just OK," Rogelio Macin, West Coast sales and marketing director of BMG Latin, says of the record's original impact. "It went up and down, but it would never leave the charts."

One thing in its favor: The catchy dance beat made the record a favorite on cruise ships and in dance clubs.

The breakthrough came last year when Johnny Caride and Mike Triay, a Miami disc jockey and musical engineer, respectively, made a new version of the song that added English lyrics (sung by Carlos De Yarza).

The remix caused such a stir in Miami that RCA bought the rights to the new version and rushed it into the stores.

Despite popular belief, the members of Los del Rio are not brothers, but they did go to school together and began their musical association at age 13.

"We love each other and argue like brothers," says Romero, the son of a housewife and a taxi driver. "We have similar humble beginnings and share a similar reaction to our success. We are extremely happy, but we take it as what it is--a miracle of the Macarena." The latter refers to the Virgin of the Macarena, one of Seville's most revered Catholic deities.

One thing is certain: "Macarena" has staying power.

"After fluctuating back and forth, up and down, the song got a second wind and this week is our No. 1 song," says Gwen Roberts, KIIS-FM's programming director's assistant. "Not that often a pure Spanish-language song reaches that high in our station, but this is such a fun summertime party track that it just won't go away."

Thanks to the success of the song, Romero and Ruiz are looking forward to their first U.S. tour, though no dates have set.

"We're very grateful for the support of the U.S. people," Romero says. "In 1966, we sang for Tom Jones when we were nobodies in Spain, and we never thought that many years [later], the English-speaking people would want to hear us. That pleases us very much because for many years we had it really tough, playing flamenco for peanuts, even though we've never been interested in money. All we ever wanted to do was make people happy with our music."


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