Shakira is not the only Colombian superstar who American audiences should be familiar with. Those who do not actively follow Latin music could immediately recognize the names Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias, Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, but they should also know this other one-namer: Juanes. Arguably the biggest rock act in the Latin world, with over 15 million albums sold worldwide and 10.5 million Twitter followers watching Juanes’ every move from Europe to North America and all over Latin American. Juanes could be considered a Latin cross between Bono, Keith Urban and Sting, with music spanning traditional Latin styles, rock, folk and pop – and he just recently experimented with electronic.
At just 7 years of age, Juanes learned to play guitar from his father and brothers, discovering a variety of musical styles from tango to Colombian folk music to rock and metal, which was his life for 10 years, fronting the band Ekhymosis. In 1998 the group disbanded and Juanes emerged as a solo artist in 2000, quickly gaining momentum with debut “Fíjate Bien” (Take A Good Look), produced by Oscar-winning film composer Gustavo Santaolalla (Amores Perros, The Motorcycle Diaries, Brokeback Mountain, Babel). The album won 3 Latin Grammys including Best New Artist for Juanes, solidifying him as a career artist and strengthening his partnership with Santaolalla for three additional hit albums, with songs like “La Camisa Negra,” “Fotografiía” featuring Nelly Furtado and “Me Enamora.” The timeless 2008 gospel-flared “Odio Por Amor” (It’s Time To Change) in partial Spanglish signaled Juanes’ ability to cross over on a global scale while also experimenting with English, even though most of his recordings continue to be in his native tongue. Throughout his 15-year solo career, Juanes has recorded 7 albums as well as a live album, yielding 9 #1 singles and winning 20 Latin Grammys, among other awards. Skipping ahead to 2014, his most recent album “Loco De Amor” was produced by rock go-to Steve Lillywhite (U2, The Killers, The Rolling Stones, The Dave Matthews Band). Juanes was invited to perform his tune “Juntos” (tenth #1), the theme from the Kevin Costner-starring film “McFarland, USA” at the recent 2015 Grammy Awards – the only Latin performance during the telecast. Juanes launched the U.S. leg of his “Loco De Amor” tourJuly 28 and he shakes up Madison Square Garden on August 19 with multiple guitars and songs that resonate beyond language. Book-ended by his first-ever show in Israel and several in Germany, Juanes was particularly energetic speaking with NYC Monthly prior to his London performance:
NYC Monthly: Juanes, your “Loco de Amor Tour” is one of Billboard’s “four biggest tours to watch this summer” alongside The Rolling Stones, The Who and Big Sean and J. Cole. Madison Square Garden is not a new venue for you and neither is Radio City Music Hall. With the large Latino community, but really global audience that exists in New York, what is it like to stop here on your tour and what are the fans like?
Juanes: For me it’s a spiritual thing to perform in New York. To see all those Latinos in the pictures. From Michael Jackson to the Beatles to The Rolling Stones, all of them have performed there. It’s the capital of many different cities and cultures around the world that converge.
NYCM: Ximena Sariñana is a bright young talent and an impressive choice to come along for the tour, how did this pairing come about?
Juanes: I really respect Ximena so much. I really like her music and I respect the color of her voice and all the music that she had been doing all these years. She’s really talented, she’s one of the next big stars in Latin America. Everyone who sees her for the first time is going to fall in love.
NYCM: Your “Juntos (Together)” performance at the Grammys in February (from the Disney movie “McFarlane, USA”) was one of the stand-out performances at the show this year. You were the only Latin artist represented this year, what was it like to be included to play at The Grammys?
Juanes: That was actually the first time I played the Grammys. It was really incredible, I came to Los Angeles for the American Grammys, I was so happy but nervous that the Academy gave me such a huge opportunity. Two years before that I played for about a minute. I feel that it was a great moment for me in my career. It was very emotional and special for me. Every time I have an opportunity like this it’s very special for me.
NYCM: You have worked with respected, award-winning film composer Gustavo Santaolalla, you toured early on with Alejandro Sanz and Ricky Martin, collaborated with Santana, Nelly Furtado, Colbie Caillat, played the 2010 FIFA World Cup Kickoff, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and recorded a live “Juanes: MTV Unplugged” album – what has been one of the biggest career highlights for you?
Juanes: Every day I have the opportunity to make great things and I love music so much. Tonight I’m going to perform in London and I said “thank god for this” because this is what I love to do. To think about being on the stage in a couple hours, it makes me so happy. The rest is just – hard work, fate, I just love it so much. Just the fact that I’m touring in Europe and I was in Israel two days ago and then flying to Berlin and Europe for the next month with many people who don’t speak Spanish as a first language, you can learn from all different people and cultures. It feels good to keep doing what I love to do since I was a kid.
NYCM: You really do it all in terms of genre, as evidenced by your music – “Azul Sabina” has a jazzy, big band sound; you just recorded an electronic song “Este Amor” with Cedric Gervais; you rock on “Yerbatero” and “La Camisa Negra,” pour your heart out on ballads “Para Tu Amor” and “Un Flor” and even play folky/guitar-flavored songs such as “La Señal.” Do you agree that Latin music is really just a cultural term and that multiple genres exist in the category?
Juanes: When I come to Europe, most of the people are not just interested in one type of music. When you go deeply into Latin music, you realize how much variety there is, it’s a mix; folk, South America music, African influences, and blues stuff. Many different elements on the Pacific coast, it’s very diverse. That’s what we are, we are just human beings here and on the other side of the world. We grow up with different cultures, but we are the same – we smile, we suffer, we laugh.
NYCM: “MTV Unplugged” seems like it was an incredible opportunity for you, one that Latin artists rarely have the honor of partaking in. Since this was a career-spanning project recorded live, what was this moment like for you?
Juanes: That was one of my favorite albums in my career cause it was everything – I was able to work with Juan Luis Guerra. He gave me a lot of perspective on the songs. It was a very important step in my career and it allowed me to refresh the songs with different elements and backup vocals and strings.