Latin singer Flex leads "Romantic" evolution

Singer Flex of Panama accepts his award for Best Urban Song "Te Quiero during the 9th annual Latin Grammy Awards in Houston, Texas November 13, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - After scoring the No. 1 song and album in Mexico in late 2007, it didn’t take long for Flex -- a DJ, singer and songwriter who had moved there from Panama not long before -- to come out blazing on the U.S. charts.

Almost overnight, Flex’s hold was relentless; his debut on EMI Televisa, “Te Quiero,” was the fourth-highest-selling Latin album in the United States in 2008, with 236,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The title track didn’t budge from Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart for 52 weeks (20 of those at No. 1), sold the highest number of Latin ringtones last year (454,000) and earned him a Latin Grammy Award in November.

Flex became a household name on the catchiness of the single, a childlike love song with an almost-reggaeton beat that the artist refers to as “the romantic style,” or “romantic reggae.” A version with Mexican pop artist Belinda and a regional Mexican remix gave the song a long life on a variety of radio genres.

“Te Quiero” was such a dominant hit that the artist, born Felix Danilo Gomez, admits it will be a tough act to follow with his new set, “La Evolucion Romantic Style,” due January 27. But “this album has everything -- two or three songs that are tender, songs for kids, but there are also very adult songs,” Gomez says. “There are a lot of tastes and colors on this album.”

The first single, “Dime Si Te Vas Con El,” was No. 21 on the Latin Rhythm airplay chart for the week ended January 4. “We based ourselves in folkloric Panamanian music and the musical heritage of Colombia,” Gomez says. Referring to an accordion-based music from the Atlantic coast of Colombia, he calls the single “a vallenato fusion.”

Gomez acknowledges that the challenge for the new album is “to exceed ‘Te Quiero’” without abandoning its sound. “We gave it the name ‘evolution’ because it’s a total music evolution without leaving behind the romantic style that marked Flex.”