Draco Rosa: From Livin' La Vida Loca to Beating Cancer

PHOTO:  After a bout with cancer, singer Draco Rosa is back with new album "Vida."

For a while Draco Rosa was losing his grip on life, fighting a gritty battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which he'd been diagnosed with in April 2011, and finding himself alone in his room, facing his own mortality.

"You're in the void, and that's where God is and that's your best friend, that's your lover, that's your mate. When you reach that point you realize, 'Okay this is who I am and this is the way we go,'" he said, his voice crackling over the phone from Los Angeles.

After being treated in Houston, the 43-year-old singer-songwriter, who is of Puerto Rican descent but was born in the United States, had decided to return to Puerto Rico, where he had a second home, to pursue other treatment options.

"I was in contact with Juan Luis [Guerra] and Rubén [Blades], and I get a call from René [Residente from Calle 13] and Juanes telling me to stay strong," Rosa said. "So we get this idea to do an album. One minute there were just 2 or 3 people involved, and the next thing you know there was 16. I thought that, since things weren't panning out--if it's my turn to, you know, fade--so be it. At least I have this last album with my peers."

This Tuesday, Sony Music Latin released "Vida," a collection of 16 classic Draco songs, all re-recorded duets with the biggest names in Latin rock, pop, salsa and bachata. Among them are Juan Luis Guerra, Alejandro Sanz, Rubén Blades, Shakira, Ricky Martin and Juanes, and that's not even half the list. Rosa, however, has even more cause to celebrate—on December 31st of last year he was declared free of cancer.

Last fall, Rosa decided to undergo a stem-cell transplant. He had been diagnosed almost two years earlier and had tried non-invasive treatments, but they hadn't been effective. Stem-cell transplants are risky because they involve radiation treatments that destroy the immune system and leave the patient at risk of several post-procedural complications. But for Rosa, it worked.

Now, "Vida" is no longer a farewell for Rosa but another milestone in a long and award-filled career. The songs on the new release span the breadth of Rosa's musical output, coming from albums like 1996's Rock en Español classic "Vagabundo," 2004's brooding LA fusion-pop album "Mad Love," and 2009's largely overlooked yet Grammy-nominated Boricua roots groove "Amor Vincit Omnia" (Latin for "Love Conquers All"). They take the listener on a journey through Rosa's surreal world of light and darkness.

"In this process Draco has shown how brave he is," Ángelo Medina, his long-time manager, said. "There's no doubt that since he was a child Draco has faced great challenges. This time he's emerged victorious from the battle of his life. Draco is a new man. This album reflects one of his most difficult moments. Music was his inspiration and source of life."

The challenges Rosa encountered as a child were largely related to music. He began his life as a pop star and musician as a teenager, when he joined the original boy band, Menudo. Stardom undoubtedly brought with it many advantages, but also an immense amount of pressure. The mood swings in his work manifest his dueling desires to court mass appeal and reject it as much as they reflect the fact that his mother loved hard rock and his father salsa.

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