>From Freestyle to R&B to Salsa,
La Negrita Cubana has Done It All
At just thirty years old, Nayobe Gomez has spent the last fifteen years of her life in the music business. Since the phenomenal success of her 1985 debut single "Please Don’t Go," Nayobe has carved out a career for herself, consisting of numerous singles, two English language albums, and a Latin release, Dame Un Poco Mas. Most recently, Nayobe’s voice can be heard in the film 54, dubbing her voice for Salma Hayek’s during her character’s singing debut. I met with Nayobe to talk about her early success in freestyle music, her stab at R&B in 1990, her split from Sony Latin after releasing Dame Un Poco Mas, and her recent signing to Platano Records.
Ivan Diller: Can you tell me a little about your background, where you were born, how you got started in the music business?
Nayobe: I was born in Brooklyn, moved around there until I was around nine years old. I did a lot of community block parties, singing for the mayor. I also did a lot of talent search contests.
ID: Did you always know you wanted to be a singer?
Nayobe: It’s funny because at that time I really didn’t know whether I wanted to be a singer or a dancer or an actress. One always stuck out from the rest and that was singing. I auditioned when I was eleven for Annie. Sure enough there were hundreds of girls and I was the only black girl auditioning. They ended up using my voice believe it or not. I was an understudy, and what they did was use my voice behind the stage. I did that for six weeks. I think they wanted to give me the chance because I was the only black girl auditioning. I think they thought we had balls for not leaving.
ID: Did you do any other theater after that?
Nayobe: I ended up doing an off-Broadway production of The Wiz. I was the understudy for Lena Horne and I ended up getting a try to do her lead. They asked me if I was willing to go on and I did it and I got three standing ovations which was great. That’s when I realized that this was it.
ID: How did you get from The Wiz to Krush Groove and "Please Don’t Go"?
Nayobe: I moved to the Bronx and by the time I was fourteen I met [my former manager] Sal Abbatiello.
ID: How did you meet him?
Nayobe: At the time he had a skating rink around the corner from where my mother lived, which was affiliated with the club he had called Disco Fever. My best friend and I used to go into the skating rink and start singing. I liked the echo when I sang. It just so happened that Sal was walking around and heard me singing. He started the ball rolling and asked me if I wanted to sing professionally. We started by doing a lot of little talent shows and that’s how I met Eddie Rivera and Andy Panda. Sal ended up having a Disco Fever talent contest and you had to win ten consecutive times. It just so happens that he got me in it even though I was a minor. I ended up winning all ten times. It went according to audience response. That’s how I ended up getting my contract and getting signed to Sutra Records. They played "Please Don’t Go" for me and I loved it. So we did it and sure enough, it was my biggest record. It was a very big underground hit here in New York and in Florida.
ID: What happened after "Please Don’t Go" was so popular?
Nayobe: Then we came out with "Second Chance For Love" and "Good Things Come To Those Who Wait." Then we ended up doing a Spanish version of "Please Don’t Go," called "No Te Vayas," which was the only Mickey Mouse record, but it sold as much as "Please Don’t Go." That record was re-done like thirty trillion times. I just re-did it again in a Spanish overtone with DJ Lucho, who just did Angel Clivilles’s song.
ID: Where does that version appear?
Nayobe: That’s on a compilation on WEA Records called Power Mix Fever 2.
ID: How did you end up doing R&B on your second album?
Nayobe: We ended up getting signed with Epic Records/WTG and did a record for the movie Twins soundtrack called "It’s Too Late." Then we got Teddy Riley, McFadden and Whitehead, Frankie Blue and Les Pierce. So we had all these producers who did the album Promise Me. It did well, but not here. It was a totally different market and people didn’t even realize that I was the same Nayobe from the Freestyle days.
ID: You took some time off after Promise Me. What were you doing?
Nayobe: Yeah, I took some time off, had my daughter Nayobe. I missed singing and I came back and got another deal with Sony Records. I end up having the worst luck. It seems like I have to go through this major catastrophe before I end up getting something. It’s like a test.
ID: Did you get a single deal or an album deal?
Nayobe: Two album deal. Unfortunately, though, it didn’t work out. Ultimately what happened was that I was signed by the president and this A&R guy. All of a sudden, while I was in the studio recording my album, I found out that they were fired. I, along with three other people who were signed at the same time, including Safire, are no longer there. I was told that when these upper management changes take place, that other changes take place as well.
ID: Here you just made a break into the Latin market and then you found yourself without a label.
Nayobe: It was upsetting because I really was excited. I worked really hard on the album and it was probably one of my best albums. It’s very versatile between Merengue music, Tejano music and pop ballads. It got nominated for awards. You could tell it was on its way to do some stuff. We did two videos for it and everything. One of the singles, "Let’s Party Tonight" was on the charts in DMA for a long time. We even got played on New York’s MEGA 97.9. They gave me an interview for forty-five minutes and played all the tracks. It was really a shame, but it really had nothing to do with me when I think about it.
ID: So what now?Nayobe: After the Sony deal didn’t pan out, I decided to take some time to make changes in my career. When my contract with my management company was up, I decided not to re-sign. I just wanted to be more in control of my career. Right now I just signed with Platano Records which is the same label that Brenda K. Starr and Oro Solido are on. It turns out that I actually now have a better deal than I had with Sony. I’m signed with Platano now for five albums, and I’m really happy about that. We should be ready to release an album in January or February of 1999.
ID: What kind of album are you going to do for them?
Nayobe: Dame Un Poco Mas was Merengue, pop ballads, everything. Now I’ve pretty much done everything, so now I’m going to do Salsa. Salsa will pretty much be the last thing. If this doesn’t make it, I’m definitely retiring because give me a break (laughs). Or I’ll end up doing house. Only thing is that I’m fortunate that I’ve maintained a reputation where people want to work with me and give me a deal, whether it’s a small deal or a big deal. I definitely thank God for that.
ID: How did you get to substitute the song for Salma Hayek in 54?
Nayobe: I got a call from a friend of mine who does movie soundtracks. He called me and asked me to do the voice for Salma Hayek. She’s the female lead who plays a hat check girl who wants to be a singer. I went to Canada to record the vocals for her.
ID: You’re also on the Freestyle Lives compilation.
Nayobe: Yes, "What Am I To Do." That’s a big wailing song. But it came out good. For people who like freestyle, they love it.
ID: What happened with your remake of "All Night Long"?
Nayobe: Hmmm. "All Night Long." What happened was, from my understanding, that the record automatically died because Mary J. Blige came out with her version at the exact same time. That was all over the airwaves. It was another record that I felt was good. I even did a reggae version, but when Mary’s version came out it just overpowered my version.
ID: Before we go, who are your musical influences?
Nayobe: I really do love Donna Summer, Diana Ross, Teena Marie. Especially Teena Marie. Between Teena Marie’s sassiness, Bette Midler’s charisma on stage. I love her too, believe it or not. Diana Ross’s classiness. There’s just something about each one of them that I try to combine their styles and bring it out when I perform.
ID: Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. Good luck with the new album.