Ricky Martin is serious about Asia. That much was obvious when he took the stage at the Velfarre Club in Tokyo with 11 musicians - including a three-man horn section - and three singers. Usually singers just come on with a backing tape. Except for those who have followed the American soap opera General Hospital, Martin is not a known name in Asia. Well, not yet, if he has his way. The Puerto Rican sings in his native Spanish to a blend of disco beat samba, flamenco and pop. His previous album, A Medio Vivir (Half a Life), has sold more than one million copies around the world. His hit Maria was Sony Music Europe's second-best-selling single last year. Martin will be singing the official song for this year's World Cup, La Copa De La Vida (The Cup of Life), included on his new album Vuelve, and he is hoping it will give him the thrust he needs to break into Asia. 'Easy it is not going to be,' he says the day after his well-received Velfarre performance. 'I sing in Spanish; the album is in Spanish except for La Copa De La Vida and Maria [which has 'Spanglish' versions]. But I like anything that is difficult. 'I'm here to take it easy, I'm not in a rush. I just want to take in the cultural exchange and [do] whatever it takes.' Richard Ogden, senior vice-president of marketing at Sony Music Europe, was quoted in Billboard as saying that Martin was chosen to sing the track - written by his long-time collaborators Desmond Child and Robi Rosa - because he 'exemplified all of the ideals that organisers of the famed football tournament wanted them to try to exemplify in music'. The song - a rousing get-up-and-go samba-based number - was mixed by the renowned Pablo Flores. Much of Martin's appeal lies in his stage performances. He and his band put on an energetic performance, and Martin is an excellent dancer, with hip swivels that would make Tom Jones blush. At the Roppongi nightspot, he took a wildly bopping audience through an infectious repertoire including La Copa, Vuelve, La Bomba and Maria, which has been adopted as the theme for a Japanese scooter commercial starring Martin. If the response at his performance the previous day was any indicator, Martin was a hit with the screaming Japanese girls. 'It was great,' he says with a flash of sparkling teeth, 'but I try not to let myself fly too high because I could fall hard. I try to keep my feet on the ground. I want something that is lifelong; that's the way it should be. 'Sometimes we have to be realistic. It's my first time in Asia and I am here because I want to stay, not because I want to do something in the summer and then go. I want to come back in 10, 20 years.' Martin is no stranger to the business. At the age of 12, he was recruited into Menudo - a group of singing, dancing Latin teens a la Boyzone or Code Red. Initially, his aim was just 'to give concerts, travel and meet the pretty girls', according to his biography. The 26-year-old laughs when this is mentioned. 'Fifteen years ago, that's what I had in my head. It's still a pretty good idea. I've always wanted to travel and be in a child band. Now I love travelling, meeting people and being on stage.' After five years with Menudo, he returned to Puerto Rico to finish high school and travelled around Mexico working in soap operas and singing. Intent on pursuing an acting career, Martin moved to the US and, before long, was cast in the long-running General Hospital, where he remained for three years. The soap led to Martin joining the Broadway cast of Les Miserables as Marius. In the past few years, however, he has been pursuing his solo singing career and now intends to devote his time to singing unless he is offered a role opposite Demi Moore, he jokes. He would like to return to Broadway some day, but only as part of the original cast. 'Les Miserables was a beautiful experience, unforgettable and indescribable. I would like to go back to that, but I would like to be first choice,' he says. Martin concedes that he has had a pretty good run. The only thing that used to bother him was that he does not write his own music. But he has overcome that by working closely with his songwriters to tell them what he feels so that they can put it to song. 'Once I was being very hard on myself because I was not writing my own songs, but then again, Julio Iglesias doesn't write his own songs and Barbra Streisand does not write hers and these are people I really admire. I just give everything I have when it comes to interpreting.' Martin is finally working on an English album. His record label is hoping it will be ready by summer's end. 'It's not going to happen,' laughs Martin. 'I don't have a single day off. If it is October or November, I think I can do something I like.' He has some big names working on the new album, including Child, Emilio Estefan and Diane Warren. 'The team is very creative. I've been talking about this album for a long time, so everyone is really expecting it and it has to be something good. Not mediocre. I'm not mediocre.' Martin could have rode on the success of General Hospital and released an English album two years ago, but he felt the need to return to his roots for a little while. 'I wanted to go back to Latin America and really dig into my culture there. I had done two albums already and it was all about the producers and songwriters. I was asking: 'Where am I? What about me?' ' says Martin. He admits to a little concern about Asia. 'It's a market that will definitely be prestigious. If I can crack Asia, I get more credibility.' But fear is not something he likes dwelling on: 'I want to be positive and I want to say something can happen instead of working in this fear. Just being here is already a big step.' It all goes back to the World Cup, of course. While the singer-actor - who describes himself as a 'bad' soccer player - knows that the much-awaited event will give La Copa De La Vida plenty of airplay opportunities, he recognises there is a flipside. 'People could say: 'This guy came with the World Cup, is he going to be gone with it?' That's not what I want,' he says. 'I want to do this forever. I want to have my chance.'