The last thing Cuban American musician and actor Jencarlos Canela would ever want to do is make his mother cry, but he was happy to see tears of joy when he told her he was chosen by Universal Pictures to perform a song for the Spanish version of the live-action/animated film “Hop,” due out in theaters April 1.
The song, “I Want Candy,” which was originally recorded by The Strangeloves in 1965, was translated into “Caramelo” for Canela, who started his solo career in 2002 after a short stint with the group Boom Boom Pop when he was only 12.
Canela, 22, graduated with honors from the New World School of the Arts in 2006 where he studied music and acting. Since then, he’s gone on to star in a number of Spanish soap operas, including “Pecados ajenos,” “Doña Bárbara,” and “Más sabe el diablo.”
During an interview with me, Canela talked about covering a classic song like “I Want Candy” and explained why a movie featuring animated Easter rabbits is something everyone will probably identify with.
How did you get involved in this project like this and what attracted you to it in the first place?
One day I got a call asking me if I was interested in performing a song for “Hop.” I said of course I would be interested in doing a song for a film of this caliber. There were great actors involved. Everything about it is fantastic. I jumped at the opportunity and everything worked out.
What are the first steps a musician has to take when giving an already-existing song its own style and flavor?
The first thing is to sit down with the people at Universal Pictures. When you jump into a project you don’t know much about you need guidance and to be able to listen to what the client wants. They knew what they were looking for and what they wanted the song to sound like. All we had to do is listen to them and go into the studio and put heart and energy into the song and hope for the best.
What did you think of the original song and how did you want to make it different?
It’s a happy song about love that makes you smile and makes you want to dance. We didn’t want to necessarily make it different. The new arrangement was already very fresh, modernized and upbeat, but the essence of the song was conserved. We just wanted to have fun with it and give it a good vibe. The way different people interpret a song makes it different.
Had you heard “I Want Candy” covered by other musicians before?
Honestly, I haven’t heard the song done by any other artist. I didn’t have any preconceived ideas about what the song should sound like. I knew how big the classic song was, but there was never another version that really stuck with me. It wasn’t hard for me because I wasn’t tied to any previous versions. They gave me the Spanish translation, so once I knew the melody it was all about singing it my own way.
Who was most excited when you told them you were performing a song for a feature film?
My whole family. My mother cried, but my mother cries for everything. I can tell my mom, “Mom, I had a good day today,” and she would be like (pretending to cry), “Oh, my god, you did?” When my family got the news everyone called their friends and before you knew it, everyone knew. One of my aunts told me she was going to watch the movie seven times. That’s the kind of family I have and I love them for it.
Do you think because the movie is centered around the Easter holiday more people will identify with it?
Yeah, I think Easter is a tradition everyone knows about. Everyone knows about the candy and hiding the eggs. It’s one of the most fun traditions we have. Watching a half-animated, half-live action movie about those traditions is going to be a lot of fun.
What do you think about the film featuring a Latino character named Carlos?
(Laughs) I think they should change his name to Jencarlos.