Glitterbox Spotlight: India

Posted on September 11, 2014

Described variously by some of the island's most respected media outlets as “...one of the most enjoyable nights on the island.”, “..a timeless event” and “a carefree night of pizazz and pleasure you’d be hard pressed to beat”, it’s fair to say that Glitterbox’s debut season in Ibiza has been a runaway success. Now with just a few parties of the season remaining, we’ve arguably saved the best until last.

Appearing at the Closing Party on Saturday 27 September will be none other than the legendary India; the frequent Masters At Work collaborator who has been involved with some of the most enigmatic, timeless house records ever recorded.

To say her appearance is highly anticipated is something of an understatement, so ahead of the event here we profile La India – Princess of Salsa.

India was born Linda Viera Caballero in Puerto Rico in 1970.  Shortly afterwards she moved with her parents to the Bronx, where she attended grade school with ‘Little Louie’ Vega and, at 19, married him. It was, in fact, the house (and hip-hop) that came first.  Vega introduced India to New York’s emerging street dance scene and during the mid-Eighties she became backing singer for Latin freestyle crew TKA.

She also embraced the tutelage of influential DJ John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez, credited with discovering Madonna and a bona fide club artist in his own right.  A successful re-recording of Jellybean hit ‘Dancing On The Fire’ led to the recording of an album with Reprise/Warner Bros, Breaking Night (1990), which attempted to position her as a Latin Madonna.  India decided against that artistic direction and looked to collaborate with husband Vega and his new production partner Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez.

Here was the start of something very special for dance clubland.  Vega and Gonzalez, as Masters At Work, and India were to become a remarkable house triumvirate.  In 1993, the three recorded seminal workout ‘I Can’t Get No Sleep’ for Cutting Records, followed by ‘When You Touch Me’.  Vega and Gonzalez’ dubby, mesmeric grooves were the perfect foil for India’s soulfully and emotionally piercing vocals – both cuts, as immaculately produced as they were, entered dynamic new territory with India’s powerful tonsils on board.

The house momentum kept building.  Next, India and Vega (the latter as River Ocean) unleashed single ‘Love And Happiness (Yemaya y Ochun)’ as part of an album of salsa dance tunes.  The single itself appeared separately on Strictly Rhythm in 1994, and praised Santeria, a fusionist religion based in the Caribbean, which drew India a number of critics.  And yet the power of the music prevailed.  ‘Love And Happiness’ was an epic undertaking, wrapping thundering percussion around uplifting melodies, dizzying key solos, spine-tingling breaks and, again, India’s transcendental vocals.  To this day, it remains one of house music’s finest ever moments; the very spiritual essence of the dancefloor.

India’s career was, by now, diversifying.  Through recording sessions with Vega, India had met influential salsa band leader Eddie Palmieri and released Llego la India, the aforementioned long-player of salsa dance quickly acclaimed as one of the salsa albums of the year – 1992.  From there she marched to plush recordings with Latin-jazz legend Tito Puente and collaboration with Celia Cruz, the late ‘Queen of Salsa’.  Cruz would in turn refer to India as the Princess of Salsa – a tag that would stick; more so as India started to win industry awards and to expand her touring schedule to include major international venues such as New York’s Madison Square Garden.

India and Vega divorced during the mid-Nineties, but house (and disco) music was ever present in her thoughts and the professional relationship with her former husband continued to thrive.  MAW project Nu Yorican Soul saw India fronting Salsoul cover ‘Runaway’ in some style – the record was both a nostalgic step back in time and sophisticated advance of the contemporary club cause.  But following ‘Runaway’ came perhaps India’s most widely recognised ‘dance’ offering ‘To Be In Love’.

MAW’s original 12 minute 47 second production, released in 1997, was a marathon masterpiece.  Co-written by Philly Icon Vincent Montana Jr, the track lovingly arranged tough 4-4 kicks and swinging rhythms beneath killer key riffs, punchy bass guitar, Montana’s divine vibraphone and, crucially, India’s tour de force performance – hitting intoxicating highs rarely heard on house vinyl before.   The record earned a welcome second (mainstream) wind in 1999 via Defected’s tasteful re-release and like ‘Love & Happiness’ is now fondly positioned in club folklore.

India achieved much throughout the Noughties.  Her relationship with MAW has conjured further soul-house magic - notably ‘Lean On Me’, also alongside James Ingram (2001), and ‘Backfired’ (2002).  She has also returned to work with Jellybean Benitez and has represented with deep Italian duo Harley & Muscle, all whilst regularly hitting the club circuit to rapturous response.  Her salsa credentials, meanwhile, have lengthened to include albums Sola (1999), Latin Songbird (2003), Soy Diferente (2006) and Unica (2010), Latin Billboard number ones, multiple Grammy nominations and a major collaboration with Gloria Estefan.  This year, she signed to new label Top Stop Music, with whom she plans to release her 10th studio album.

In the meantime, you’ll have to make do with a barn-storming club performance at the 27 September closing party for Defected’s glamorous Ibiza night Glitterbox – Dimitri From Paris, Joey Negro, Late NIte Tuff Guy, DJ Pippi B2B DJ Antz, Mr Doris and Shovell Live on Percussion.

India performs at the Closing Party of Glitterbox at Booom Ibiza 27 September – click for more info and tickets

Defected presents House Masters Masters At Work is out 21 September (4CD, double LP and digital) on Defected Records - order from Amazon