February 18, 2008 / 1:12 AM / 9 years ago

Bandleader Quintanilla asks, What's in a name?

5 Min Read

MIAMI (Billboard) - In a world where name recognition is everything, A.B. Quintanilla has flipped conventional wisdom by regularly tinkering with his group's moniker.

What began as A.B. Quintanilla III y Los Kumbia Kings evolved into A.B. Quintanilla III Presents Kumbia Kings, and finally A.B. Quintanilla III Presents Kumbia All Starz.

The mutations are not in name only. Possibly no other group in contemporary Latin music has produced as many offshoots as Quintanilla's Kumbia Kings and Kumbia All Starz, with a roster of alumni that includes Frankie J, DJ Kane and K1.

Through it all, Quintanilla's fan base has remained stable, a remarkable feat for a bandleader who is not a lead singer.

But as arranger/producer/composer/bassist, Quintanilla is the architect of a particular urban cumbia sound that has managed to transcend years, names and vocalists. (Traditional cumbia is the music for a dance of short sliding step that originated among African slaves on Colombia's Atlantic coast.)

"In the end, I think I can change the name to A.B. Quintanilla and whatever," Quintanilla said on the phone from Argentina, where he's filming three videos for new album "Planeta Kumbia." Due March 4 on EMI/Televisa, the 15-track set is his sophomore album with his new group, Kumbia All Starz, following his much-publicized breakup with longtime musical partner Cruz Martinez.

"The thing about it is, when people are buying Coca-Cola or Tide, it always has to be new and improved. Stronger-smelling, fresher," Quintanilla said. "But even though the chemicals may change, it's still the same brand. I believe when people hear 'A.B. Quintanilla,' they know they're going to buy a quality cumbia album."

Caught up in an ongoing dispute with Martinez over the rights to the Kumbia Kings name, Quintanilla is now focused on Kumbia All Starz. The group's debut album, 2006's "From KK to Kumbia All Starz," has sold nearly 200,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Accent on Spanish

"Planeta Kumbia" is a continuation of Quintanilla's distinctive mix of traditional beats, pop, hip-hop, loops and synthesizers. But the album is more dance-oriented and Latin-leaning than other Quintanilla productions. While all previous albums have included English-language tracks, this time, everything is in Spanish.

"I definitely have more Spanish-speaking consumers now than the bilingual crowd," said Quintanilla, who has concentrated much of his promotional efforts in Mexico during the past two years. "Now, it's very important to be Spanish-conscious."

Despite the changes, the blend remains defined by Quintanilla's touch. First single "Por Ti Baby" features a guest singer, new EMI Televisa artist Flex, whose debut album, "Te Quiero," is No. 4 on Billboard's Top Latin Albums chart.

The band will perform the song on Univision's Premios lo Nuestro Awards telecast, marking Quintanilla's first U.S. TV performance since the 2005 tribute to his sister Selena, the Tejano singer who was murdered in 1995.

The second single features newcomer Melissa Jimenez on vocals, and the third features Spanish rapper Mala Rodriguez and Argentine rocker Vicentico. Kumbia All Starz singer Ricky Rick handles lead vocals on most of the other tracks.

Rick remains with the band, but two other singers departed after the album was recorded. Sources say former Kumbia Kings singer DJ Kane could reteam with Quintanilla in the All Starz.

Quintanilla plans to tie in promotional efforts for "Planeta Kumbia" with his search for new singers, and he's in conversations with two major TV networks about doing a reality show that doubles as a talent search, with the winners landing slots in his group.

In the States, Quintanilla has been a consistent top seller, with his early albums nearing the half-million sales mark, according to Nielsen SoundScan. All of his studio sets have topped 200,000 copies.

Quintanilla maintained the momentum even after his split with Martinez, a testament to his appeal.

"If you go from the first Kumbia Kings album to Kumbia All Starz, you notice there is a continuous flow of hit after hit on each album," Quintanilla said. "And each time, there are different vocalists interpreting the songs."

Reuters/Billboard

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