She started singing in her crib, banging a tambourine with the church choir at age 5 and writing songs at 11.
Now 16, singer-songwriter JD Natasha has a raw rocker sound, rangy voice, angst-filled lyrics — and her first album, “Imperfecta/Imperfect.”
Released on July 13, JD Natasha’s album includes 11 songs in Spanish and three in English. Her bilingualism is allowing her backers — record label EMI Latin, talent agency William Morris, AmericaOnline — to call her a groundbreaker, an American teen busting into bilingual markets at the same time.
“It’s something that’s been missing in the Latin market for a while. We were praying and begging and wishing for something like her, and it appeared,” said Richard Bull, director of Latin entertainment and music for AOL Latino.
They have reason to be confident. EMI Latin President Jorge Pino signed her up after one listen, and Natasha’s development has been tracked on AOL Latino’s “Impulsa” program since February, providing a ready-made fan base who followed her through demo releases, journal entries and recording sessions.
But don’t expect cookie-cutter, bubble-gum pop from dark-haired Natasha, who sings that “I’m not a plastic Barbie / I have a soul.”
“I was always leaning toward the rock side,” Natasha told The Associated Press. “I don’t see myself doing Britney Spears stuff ... I’ve always written about life. I’ve never written stupid stuff.”
She claims alternative gods Nirvana and the Cure, David Bowie, Radiohead and Bob Marley as influences, and she projects a Chrissie Hynde-Joan Jett look with a youthful, rebellious edge. (JD, initials of her middle and last names, were added to get by some copyright issues.)
Her powerful voice belies her tiny stature, as does her presence in two videos, the English-language “Imperfect” and the Spanish “Lagrimas” (Tears). The album also features a stirring acoustic remake of OutKast’s hit “Hey Ya.”
“Always feeling high / Losing sense of time / Drunk off my imperfections / I’ll never be alright,” she sings in “Imperfect.”
‘Born with talent’Critics are lauding lyrics that seem too mature for the 16-year-old, who plays piano and guitar and started writing songs in English, but learned to pen them in Spanish.
“There’s not a lot of artists my age, and kids go through a lot of things by the age of 13,” she said. “A lot of them are very mature. I’m just the one to bring it out. I’m the voice for them. There’s no one.
“The kids that are my age and they’re artists, like Hillary Duff and those people, they don’t write their own songs and they talk about, I don’t know, clothes? They don’t write their own music, so I’m like, ’Whoa, what has she gone through. How horrible my life must be.”’
Her life is actually pretty normal. She lives in the suburbs with her parents and goes to the mall with her friends. Her father, Guillermo Duenas, a native of Argentina, doesn’t allow boyfriends.
“She was born with talent,” Duenas said. “I think back to when she was 1 1/2 years old, singing in the crib,” says Duenas, who owns a hair salon in the suburb of Kendall.
But it took a gutsy family friend, and neighbor of EMI’s Pino, to kick-start Natasha’s career.
Pino said it was a bit unusual when the lady neighbor knocked on his door at 10:30 p.m. and told him, code-like, “The hairdresser’s daughter is a good singer.”
Pino’s home was being remodeled but he let her inside, put a demo CD in the workers’ dusty boombox and listened closely. He signed her the next day, and the bandwagon has since filled up.
“I had been chasing something fresh, young and female,” Pino said. “You’re always looking at what’s going on in the market, if there’s a void. It’s been years since we’ve had a young girl with a message. The last new (female) artist with such a strong message was Shakira, and that was 10 years ago.”
William Morris’ office in Miami Beach was the backdrop for a June listening party for industry insiders, reporters and friends. There, Natasha’s wardrobe reflected a colorful rebelliousness — pink off-the-shoulder shirt, denim skirt, one blue shoe and one pink shoe. Three teardrops were drawn next to her right-eye.
The gathering was as much a coming-out party as a display of the powerful public-relations and marketing machinery behind the erstwhile high-school sophomore. Members of MTV’s Latin arm, the Latin Recording Academy and other industry-types were moved by her vocal range and charisma.
More than 20 miles away in Kendall, a cafeteria and a hair salon have Natasha’s publicity poster on their glass storefronts.
Expectations are high, but the possibility always looms that Natasha won’t strike a chord with Latin music fans.
“I never thought I’d be a one-hit wonder,” she says. “I knew I wanted to do this the rest of my life and knew it would happen, just not so soon.”