Eva Longoria and Ricky Martin at the Global Gift Gala in Dubai. Image Credit: Pankaj Sharma/Gulf News archive

It’s endearing to hear a Grammy-winning artist emote almost childlike incredulity upon hearing that fans are feverishly eager to see his live performance in the UAE.

“Are you serious?” comes the enthusiastic response from Latin pop star Ricky Martin. “I’ve been to Dubai so many times in the past. But this is the first time I will actually be performing.”

A fact that isn’t lost on the large following that Martin commands in the region. The Puerto Rican native will finally take his place in the bright lights here when he performs at the Emirates Airline Dubai Jazz Festival on Friday.

Speaking about his concert, Martin says: “We’ve been touring with this show for quite some time now. Of course, we had to go to Dubai. And [to] be part of the jazz festival is even more interesting.”

Martin believes his blend of Latin pop is the perfect sound to connect with music enthusiasts at the festival.

“I think the beauty of the jazz festival is that it’s a mix of cultures and the show that I am bringing lends to that very ethos with very ethnic, Latin sounds that are raw and very percussive,” he explains. “The music itself is highly influenced by Africa, because culturally speaking, the Caribbean is very influenced by the continent. And the blend of sounds makes it all the more interesting.”

While Martin hopes to catch the performances by Duran Duran and John Legend, the two other headline acts at the Dubai Jazz Festival, the Latino singer also has a few surprises up his sleeve for his own concert, including live streaming the very first performance of his new single, Fiebre, from Dubai to the world.

“It is something that I love doing,” he says. “Thanks to Facebook Live, I’m going to present my song from the stage in Dubai to the world.”

Fiebre, which translates to Fever, is a fusion of Caribbean sounds and reggaeton, explains Martin. “The song is a powerful collaboration with Wisen and Yandel. They are super talented guys that I admire. And with this fusion we will be able to reach a broader audience.”

LATIN FEVER

Some could say this collaboration holds potential to ape the success of 2017’s Despacito — one that saw Puerto Rican singers Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee break records when the video hit 4.8 billion views on YouTube. The latter artist is already hitting the right notes with his hit new single, Dura.

Latin music is finally savouring its moment nearly two decades after Martin himself brought it to a crescendo with the electrifying performance of The Cup of Life at the 41st Grammy Awards in 1999.

While the singer was already a household name among his Latin fans, his Grammy performance brought him instant recognition on a global stage, which he followed up with his self-titled English debut album that same year with tracks such as Livin’ Da Vida Loca.

“I will give a lot of credit to social media [for the success of Latin music]. Back in the days when I was working, I didn’t have the amazing help of social media,” Martin confesses. “Nowadays, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook present you with an immediate reaction from the crowds and they let you know what they like, what they don’t like and this is something that musicians must take advantage of.”

The 46-year-old singer continues: “And I am celebrating the success of my friend Luis Fonsi, like you have no idea. I give him a standing ovation for everything that he’s doing, because that man is working like crazy and what he did with Despacito is very special; we are all celebrating it in Latin America.”

But Martin refuses to stop there. “Yes, we have Luis Fonsi. But there is also Jennifer Lopez, who has also brought her music and her influences from Puerto Rico to the world. Marc Anthony as well. We have a lot of artists who are doing a lot for the music culture from the island,” he says.

FOR PUERTO RICO

The proud Puerto Rican is also using his fame and fortune to raise money for his native country following the devastation of last year’s Hurricane Maria that resulted in the death of 112 people; although estimates put that number much higher, close to 1,000.

The singer, who just extended his Las Vegas residency, is raising funds by donating a dollar for every ticket sold of the show to The Ricky Martin Foundation. The money will benefit victims of the hurricane and human trafficking.

“After what we experienced with the hurricane…. I don’t know if you have been able to see the images,” pauses an emotional Martin. “In Puerto Rico, we are almost four million residents and till today, more than a 100 days after the catastrophe, a lot of them still have no power.

“It is really frustrating. So, of course, if I can use the stage to bring consciousness to something that is still happening, that, unfortunately, the media is still not reporting anymore, then why not do it.”

Although, Martin points out, extending his Las Vegas residency was “the easiest job.” He adds: “I have a theatre is Las Vegas that is mine. I perform every day and go return to my family,” says Martin, adding that the added time allows him to bond with his twin sons Valentino and Matteo and drop them to karate daily.

TUNING INTO TELEVISION

The steady pace has also allowed Martin to pursue his passion for acting with FX’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. In the anthology series, the singer plays Antonio D’Amico, the long-time partner to the iconic fashion designer who was present on that fateful day in 1997 when Versace was gunned down on the steps of his mansion in Miami.

Martin admits that the role has not been an easy one. “I talked with Antonio before I started filming. He was very generous in sharing his emotions, his ups and downs and the moments of sadness after the loss of someone like Gianni. At the end of the day, it was all about doing justice to Gianni’s life and Antonio’s life.”

Surely, filming that death sequence couldn’t have been easy. “Draining. That’s what it was,” he replies. “And Ryan Murphy [producer-director] loved the fact that I was so tired, so emotionally drained, that he took advantage of it and pushed me as an actor. But the truth is, you feel protected as an actor when you are working with people like Ryan Murphy, Penelope Cruz, Edgar Ramirez….”

The show also brought forth feelings of rage in Martin as the shooting unfolded. “I wanted to jump into a project like this to highlight what happened before Gianni Versace’s assassination,” says Martin. “The fact that this man [serial murderer Andrew Cunanan] was in Miami, where he went on a killing spree. Not to forget that he was on the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted’ List, and was not caught for days after the murder infuriates me. It’s not how Gianni died, but that we allowed it to happen. That’s the point we are bringing in this series.”

Cunanan committed suicide eight days after killing Versace.

Martin, meanwhile, chooses to focus his energies on the positive reviews he’s been receiving ever since the show started airing. “I am floating. It has been a beautiful year,” he admits. “And now, with our tour coming to Dubai, I hope to take the time out after the concert to play tourist with my kids.”

The singer, who confirmed his marriage to partner Ywan Josef last month, can’t wait to return to family life after touring. “My number one priority is family. Number two is my career. And one feeds the other. If my family is doing well, my career will,” he shares, when quizzed about marriage and kids. “My priority will always be my kids who come with me everywhere. It all comes down to time management and passion for what you do.”

Don’t miss it

Regular tickets for the Ricky Martin concert at the Emirates Airline Dubai Jazz Festival start at Dh175.