Friday, December 19, 2008

Juanes Free Concert in Medellin: Dec. 19th

JUANES 'La Vida... Es Un Ratico' was iTunes Top-Selling Latin Album Of The Year!

As A Special Year-End Thank You To Fans In His Native City, And Once Again To Rally For The Release Of Hostages Still Held Throughout Colombia. JUANES Plans To Give A Free Holiday Concert in Medellin on December 19. The Special Event Is Expected To Attract Hundreds of Thousands of Fans.

About Juanes: Ten years ago, Juanes was marking time in a heavy-metal band in his home town, Medellin, in Colombia. He left for America with a demo cassette, and today is fĂȘted as the world’s leading Latin music star, a singer-songwriter and guitarist whose four solo albums have sold more than 11m copies. His mix of soulful rock and Colombian folk, together with emotionally transparent and politically charged lyrics, have won him recognition as the Latin Bono or Bruce Springsteen, as well as 12 Latin Grammys and a French knighthood. For the producer Quincy Jones, who nominated him as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influen-tial people, Juanes embodies “music’s ability to speak to everyone”. Tickets go on sale on Friday for a gig at the Hammer-smith Apollo on June 2. Best book early: a gig at the Shepherds Bush Empire two years ago sold out within an hour.

Juanes’s success is all the more remarkable for his singing entirely in Spanish. He bucks the trend for crossover stars, such as the Puerto Rican Ricky Martin and fellow Colombian Shakira, to record albums in English. Living in Miami as well as Medellin, he says: “I think and live in Spanish, and I want to be honest.” A lifelong fan of Anglo-American rock, he jokes: “I prefer to play guitar in English and sing in Spanish. It’s nothing against my friends who sing in English, but Madonna or Robbie Williams singing in Spanish is not cool.”

Juanes: A Dios Le Pido video

aka Juan Esteban Aristizabal

Juanes (a contraction of Juan Esteban Aristizabal) is 35, and has forsaken long hair for a spiky crop. In a Kensington hotel, wearing a simple grey sweater, he appears more open and vulnerable than his rockero image might suggest – more boy next door than Desperado. But his sincerity is part of his appeal. He has songs about landmines and the kidnappings that, along with cocaine, have bankrolled Colombia’s 40-year war – and led to the murder of one of his cousins “after the family paid the ransom”. He used to be told he’d never get played on radio with such lyrics, but says, “I’d never remove that from my music, because that’s who I am. I care for my country.”

His latest album, La Vida . . . Es Un Ratico (Life Is Short) was released last autumn in 77 countries – unprecedented for a Spanish-language artist. Alongside the landmine protest song, Minas Piedras, are more intimate lyrics about loss and confusion, reflecting a period of very public separation from his wife, Karen Martinez, a former Colombian actress, with whom he has two daughters: Luna, four, and Paloma, two.

For Juanes, the album is about “facing fear, and about how difficult, but important, relationships are. If you talk about love, you have to know what hate means – like peace and war. Growing up in Colombia, I have stories about violence, but also a passion for being in love. Maybe feeling death so close makes us appreciate life.” The couple were reconciled after his “year off” from the incessant touring he believes provoked the split. “It was my mistake when I decided to finish it. But my wife helped me build our relationship again.” He is starting a US tour in March, but says: “We’ll take it easier. We want to travel more together.”

He loves the “melancholy of Latin music – not just the summer dance stuff. People think in stereotypes, but it’s so diverse”, and sees this, his fourth solo album, as more balanced between rock and folk.

“This is what I’m looking for all these years,” he says. “To mix elements, my essence.”

Juanes has his own Mi Sangre Foundation in Medellin

Born in Medellin in 1972, he learnt to sing and play guitar, aged seven, from his father, who owned a cattle ranch, and three brothers. His music is influenced by the sounds of rural Antioquia, including tango, and those from Colombia’s coastal meld of African, Iberian and Amerindian cultures. He imbibed the jaunty rhythms and mournful lyrics of vallenato, played on accordion, conga and the scraped-percussion guacharaca, and sultry, off-beat cumbia.

At 13, however, he got “crazy with metal music”, and started a band, Ekhymosis, who signed to a local label in 1988. “Music was our refuge,” he says of the metal and punk underground. “Medellin in the 1980s was very violent, with a stupid war between the cartels and the government, and bombs every day. Through music, I saw what was happening to our country. We found a way to take the anger out.” Some anger remains. “It’s hard for Colombians,” he says. “Every time you’re in an airport, they think you’re a narco-trafficker. Young Colombians are asking for legalisation, to destroy the mafias and guerrillas.”

While making contacts in Medellin’s famous music business, Juanes studied industrial design at university. Yet “I was always missing something.” Partly influenced by Carlos Vives, a 1990s pioneer La Vida... Es Un Ratico is now out on Wrasse; the single Me Enamora is released on February 4 of vallenato-pop, he started “to accept who I was and search my roots”. Moving to Los Angeles, he was eventually signed to the Surco label (Universal) by the Argentinian Gustavo Santaolalla, still his co-producer after eight years.

Juanes: Me Enamora video

His first solo album, 2000’s Fijate Bien (Look Closely), reflected both the violent reality he had left and personal transition. “I left everything, family and friends, to start from scratch. I was depressed; the album shows the darker side of my soul.” By his second, 2002’s Un Dia Normal (A Normal Day), he had met his wife (“I discovered love”) and had a hit with A Dios le Pido (I Ask God), a prayer for peace – though he says, wagging his finger, “I don’t follow the church”. By his third, 2004’s Mi Sangre (My Blood), he was “coming back to reality”. The love song La Camisa Negra (The Black Shirt) was a hit across western Europe, despite being espoused by Italian neo-fascists. “I was laughing, then scared; it was nothing to do with fascism,” he says.

Juanes rocks Medellin, December 19th.

Juanes has his own Mi Sangre Foundation in Medellin, for landmine survivors in Colombia – the worst afflicted country, where three people die each day. He has performed at the Nobel peace prize concert and in the EU parliament chamber. Last month, the Juanes Park of Peace in Medellin was opened in his name. He sees it as part of a transformation of the city from the worst violence of the 1980s. Colombia’s president, Alvaro Uribe, has praised him as the country’s “greatest ambassador”. “I’m not in any political team,” Juanes says, “but for the moment he’s the right president. There’s less violence and kidnapping.” Last year, he sang at a Medellin demo, as 1m Colombians marched to free remaining hostages.

Juanes: Para Tu Amor video

Juanes fans in Medellin

In the spring, Juanes is to launch his own label for Colombian talent on Universal, called 4Js (after the first initials of his father and three brothers). Being a middleman makes him uncomfortable, but he feels an obligation towards Colombia’s thriving music scene. “We get information from everywhere – the Atlantic and Pacific coasts,” he says. “And the young, because of our reality, are curious and have lots to say. We’re not waiting for time to pass us by.”

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Juanes concert in Medellin, 2008!

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