"Above all, we are sisters," says Ana Maria, now planning a solo album.
"Above all, we are sisters," says Ana Maria, now planning a solo album.

Family Jewels

Sergio Lombo, suave leader of the 10-piece band Pazport, steps to the mike at Axis/Radius, the pretty-people Scottsdale nightclub where the band plays every Tuesday. The Colombian native, sporting a ponytail, John Lennon shades and a leather jacket, plays percussion and belts out lyrics to the band's unusual mix of salsa, rock, schlocky pop and free jazz. Stroking the mike stand suggestively, Sergio's a surprisingly electric draw.

Then, the women arrive. First, Marisa Ronstadt -- a distant relative of Linda -- delivers an energetic lead vocal and quick, jittery dance steps. After a Santana-faithful cover of Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va" (this is a Latin bar band, after all), the night's star, Shalom, waltzes out for a cover of Jennifer Lopez's "Play."

In her tight, paint-sprinkled jeans, slinky red jacket (which she threatens to remove in teases) and belly-baring tee, the statuesque Shalom is sex in high heels. She plays to the crowd, flashing professional come-hither glances, puffing her full lips, raising her arms above her head. And she leads the crowd through lengthy, improvisational covers of "Superstition" and "I Will Survive" with surprisingly powerful singing chops. Diva, star, whatever. She has something.

It's a family trait.

Pazport is a family business, one that pumps out musical enthusiasm, mounds of ambition, exotic first names and damn fine-looking women. Sergio Lombo is the patriarch. Shalom is his daughter. Two other daughters, Felicia and Ana Maria, don't perform this night, but together, the sisters, Dad and Wisconsin-bred mother Deborah have been a hardworking entertainment unit for nearly 20 years. Its individual members are now beginning to find success on an international level, away from their Arizona base.

Ana Maria, 24, was one of five young women chosen as members for gold-album-selling pop group Eden's Crush (you may remember them from the WB reality series Popstars -- she was the best-looking of the bunch). That led to a gig working with genius producer David Foster, a stadium tour with *NSYNC in 2001 and leverage on a solo career. Shalom, too, has earned high-profile singing and modeling jobs for several years, recently including a calendar shoot earlier this year in Hawaii and guest spots on local rapper Pokafase's major-label debut, scheduled for release in May. Sergio, who in true entertainment fashion refuses to divulge his age and makes his daughters younger than they really are, mentions plans to record a solo demo of his own. And the three sisters also have discussed forming their own pop trio.

Don't call Sergio a pimp, however. The way he describes it, the family stumbled into its good fortune. He denies that there was any cruel Svengali plan or show-biz kiddy precast molding. There was only a musically inclined couple (Sergio's a lifelong music pro, singing and performing in rock bands since age 8 and promoting; Deborah's an accomplished singer) blessed with three attractive bundles of charisma. The luck started when the girls were toddlers with an innocent request from a doctor and family friend in Grafton, Wisconsin.

"He said, Why don't the girls come into the hospital and sing some Christmas carols?'" Sergio recalls. "So I went home and got my guitar, and that's how we got the girls started."

The family moved around North America, from gigs at Mexican restaurants like El Tio in Walnut Creek, California, to a six-year stay in various parts of Mexico to gigs here in the Valley at the Celebrity Theatre and with notables like Poncho Sanchez and Isaac Hayes. In 1997, the family released an album, Pazport's First Journey.

Ana Maria says the sisters caught the music bug from Sergio early on. "He is very passionate," she says. "I used to wake up and hear him writing a song in his bathroom, trying to be quiet so he wouldn't wake us up."

The girls, Sergio says, kept prying and prying and making pleas for dad to seriously invest in their careers, to the tune of $8,000 a year for singing and dancing lessons, media instruction and other preparations. Father could only shrug his shoulders.

"They wanted to do it," Sergio says. "I know about the music business, and it's not something I wanted. I told them, If you're not willing to work hard and take it seriously, then don't do it at all.'"

"At first, he didn't know how to handle it," Shalom says. "He's learned to, like, take it easy . . . obviously, he helped us because we sang together. But he never instilled any kind of fame is what you have to have in your life' values."

Ana Maria has a mixed view of her upbringing. "I had a good time because we were traveling a lot. We were singing. Who wouldn't have fun doing that?" she says. "At the same time, we didn't have a lot of friends our age. We were always around older people. We kind of grew up really fast."

Shalom and Ana Maria speak of turning down modeling opportunities now, afraid that they'll be seen only as pretty faces. They don't need that perception in an industry that already favors looks over singing talent. They speak also of writing songs and learning instruments and making themselves serious commodities. Ana Maria is the shrewder of the two. She runs her own Web site, and talks about writing self-help books on the music business and on cultivating self-esteem. Shalom, though, is a sharpie, too. She says she's even dabbling with Middle Eastern rhythms in her music (like that other Colombian starlet, Shakira, the girls have some Lebanese blood).

No doubt, the girls are competitive. The family admits that, for a time, they all expected Shalom to receive her big break first. When Ana Maria left for her made-for-television experience in Los Angeles, it left the others to carry on and figure out a grand design of their own; the stage lights burn a little brighter on Shalom these days.

Ana Maria, who no longer performs regularly with Pazport, offers no regrets. "I have always felt like I'm doing what I want to do with my life," she says. Then, quickly, she qualifies her comments. "We don't give up. We're competitive, but it's not like something that overpowers us. Above all, we are sisters. We don't ever want to get to the point where business is more important than sisterhood."

That's not the attitude you expect in a world lousy with self-absorbed divas. But these stunners owe their level-headedness to Sergio, whose arm needed twisting but whose heart never wavered.

Daddy really is the mack.

Got a beef with Kick & Scream?

Contact the author at his online address: christopher.oconnor@newtimes.com.


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