Copyright ©2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ALEX COHEN, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY, and the biggest Latin pop star in the world right now.

(Soundbite of music)

His name is Juan Esteban Aristizabal Vasquez. That is quite a mouthful for DJs, which is likely why he's better known as just Juanes. Unlike most other international Latin stars Juanes only sings in Spanish.

Music journalist Christian Bordal recently spoke with him about his music and his new CD. It's called "La Vida... Es un Ratico" or "Life is a Brief Moment."

(Soundbite of music)

JUANES (Singer): (Singing in Spanish)

Mr. CHRISTIAN BORDAL (Music Journalist): No one that has grown up in Colombia is untouched by violence. Juanes, now a huge international pop star, had a cousin kidnapped for ransom and executed and a close friend killed by gunmen. He says his hometown of Medellin is much different now than it was in the '80s in the days of the Medellin Cartel and Pablo Escobar. But he also thinks that all the violence has created a love of life.

JUANES: I think maybe the fact that we feel death so close to us all the time, I think we just appreciate more life, you know, the fact that we are alive. And that's the reason why, you know, Colombian people is really happy all the time and really positive and optimistic.

Mr. BORDAL: Maybe that's why even when Juanes is talking about heavy issues in his lyrics, the music often has a danceable, happy bounce like this song called "Clase de Amor" or "Kind of Love."

(Soundbite of song "Clase de Amor")

JUANES: (Singing in Spanish)

Mr. BORDAL: "Clase de Amor" from Juanes' new CD "La Vida... Es un Ratico" is a song about the struggles of a relationship falling apart. And there are a number of songs in this vein on the new album, all apparently inspired by the temporary breakup of Juanes' marriage to model Karen Martinez.

JUANES: Relationships are so difficult, you know, even if you love somebody really, I mean, really bad. I mean, it's like, always you have to lost something, you have to feel pain. And in this album in particular, it took about this personal crisis that I left with my wife. And it's just all in the lyrics, you know, like that difficult moment when you don't know if it's better to go away or better to be a best friend of somebody that you really love. It's just so hard.

(Soundbite of music)

JUANES: (Singing in Spanish)

Mr. BORDAL: Much has been made of Juanes' huge success despite his decision to sing in Spanish only, unlike other Latin artists such as fellow Colombians Shakira and Ricky Martin who sought to widen their audience by singing in English.

JUANES: I never wanted to record in English, you know? Not because I don't like, I mean, actually I love Anglo music and is a big influence for me, but it's just because I'm coming from Colombia and for me the fact that I just wanted to share my music in the way it is natural.

Mr. BORDAL: Juanes hasn't sold millions of records around the world for nothing. He has a great ear for the universal language of a pop hook. But maybe it's because I've spent my life surrounded by Western rock and pop that Juanes' straight pop tunes sometimes feel a little thin and predictable.

(Soundbite of music)

JUANES: (Singing in Spanish)

Mr. BORDAL: The music is much more vital what Juanes leavens his pop sensibility with a strong dose of Latin folk rhythms like Cumbia and Vayanato and Mapale, which he uses to great effect on a fun tune called "Bailala."

(Soundbite of song "Bailala")

JUANES: The origin of this rhythm came originally from Africa to the Pacific Coast of Colombia. And we reinterpreted that rhythm and it's called Mapale. And I always found this rhythm really very, like, frenetic and energetic, and it reminds me always of that Santana sound from the '70s.

(Soundbite of song "Bailala")

JUANES: (Singing in Spanish)

Mr. BORDAL: Whether it's love lost or love gained, Juanes is first and foremost sold as a sexy purveyor of danceable radio-friendly Latin love songs.

But there is also a serious, social activism side to his life and music. Since his rapid ascend to stardom, Juanes has become known as a kind of Latin Bono. In fact in 2005, Time Magazine named him one of the world's 100 most influential people for his advocacy against landmines and political violence. But he seldom lets the music get too heavy. And on this album in particular, he says he wanted to dance his own pain as in the song "Bailala."

JUANES: "Bailala," it is like "pray." I am saying that we are all part of this, you know, difficult world that we live. That there is time, you know, now to burn all our lies, all our bad feelings, and the only thing to survive is if we decide to dance life. It is the only cure for our soul and for our heart, is to dance life.

(Soundbite of song "Bailala")

JUANES: (Singing in Spanish)

Mr. BORDAL: For NPR News, this is Christian Bordal.

(Soundbite of song "Bailala")

JUANES: (Singing in Spanish)

COHEN: The CD "La Vida... Es un Ratico" by the artist Juanes is out in stores now.

(Soundbite of song "Bailala")

JUANES: (Singing in Spanish)

COHEN: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com.

I'm Alex Cohen.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: