“I call my music ‘Brooklyn style,’” says Puerto Rican vocalist Zulayka. “I mix R&B, Latin, house, hip-hop, traditional Spanish, Caribbean, and reggaeton sounds in a synth-driven pop/dance format. After 15 years in the music business, I’ve come close to being signed, but record labels want to pin you down to a certain category, and they’re really confused by artists who sing in Spanish and English, especially within a single song. It’s better to work independently now, anyway.”
Raised in New York City, Zulayka’s previous band, Conjunto Calle 4 Banda, stuck to more traditional Puerto Rican songs, with a debut album in 2000 that included salsa, merengue, and bachata. Going solo in 2002, she began experimenting with rapping, hip-hop, and club music, releasing a series of bilingual singles that charted modestly in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and even Cuba.
Currently based in Pacific Beach and married with two children, she says, “Shakira and Jennifer Lopez have blazed a crossover trail that I hope to follow. Well, maybe except for cohosting American Idol.”
Zulayka appeared at the Ramona Mainstage on July 15.
WHAT’S IN YOUR MUSIC PLAYER?
1) Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. “She writes music that you can relate to, the kind of songs that you can dedicate to someone when you can’t find the words yourself to explain a feeling or thought.”
2) Salsa mix. “I made this compilation of many old-school salsa artists: Héctor Lavoe, Eddie Santiago, Frankie Ruiz. I try to keep in sync with my roots, and I like soft ballads that tell stories.”
3) Keyshia Cole, The Way It Is. “I love this CD because it showcases her being from the ’hood but still sexy, with words that other girls from the ghetto can relate to.”
4) Daddy Yankee mix. “This collection has songs from his entire career, from ‘La Despedida’ to his older classics. Daddy Yankee flows with so many different styles. His music changes from reggaeton to mambo, which is a softer merengue with a hint of bachata.”
WHAT ERA DO YOU WISH YOU COULD HAVE LIVED IN?
“The early 1970s Brooklyn scene, especially around Studio 54. The fashion during the ’70s was daring, people were feeling liberated, and the music was fresh and raw. We’re talking KC & the Sunshine Band, Marvin Gaye, Tina Turner, and TV shows such as Soul Train that would have been perfect for me to perform on.”
“My first concert was Big Pun in Reading, Pennsylvania, in the summer of 1996. The experience of just being there and seeing how people react to a big star was mesmerizing. Plus, the tickets were part of a birthday gift to my best friend.”
ANY CAREER REGRETS?
“My former band released a CD in 2000, and our manager decided to put himself on the cover instead of the band. The rest of the group only appeared on the back cover, in small collages. I wish I could go back and do that differently.”
YOUR BEST DISH?
“Yellow rice with pigeon beans and slow-roasted pork with a side salad. The seasonings we Puerto Ricans use make the meat juicy and flavorful. The rice is seasoned and cooked to perfection, and the scent alone opens your appetite and makes your mouth water.”
ANY FEARS OR PHOBIAS?
“I can’t put on clean clothes without showering, even if I showered the night before.”
WHAT ARE YOU PROUD OF?
“I once saved six kids and their pets from a burning home.”
WHO SHOULD PLAY YOU IN A MOVIE?
“Queen Latifah. Most of my life, I’ve been compared to her.” ■