Why Juanes Is 2019’s Person Of The Year: Colombian Rocker’s Stratospheric Career Parallels Latin Grammys’ 20-Year Rise
Rodrigo Varela / WireImage – Parallel Lines
Juanes, the 2019 Latin Recording Academy’s Person of the year, accepting an award at the 9th Annual Latin on Nov 13, 2008 in Houston, the year he won five Latin Grammy Awards.
On Sept. 3, 2003, America witnessed a breakthrough moment for a little-known Colombian singer and guitarist. This alluring 29-year-old singer had joined forces with superstars the Black Eyed Peas in a riveting performance during the fourth annual Latin Grammys. With his long shag and signature rustic-rocker appeal, Juanes belted out the snarling pop kiss-off of his chart-topping hit, “La Paga.” He tossed off piercing bursts of staccato fretwork as the L.A. dance-rappers spat verses that embraced 50 shades of Latin women. Fergie then lent her hush-hush pipes in Spanish.
At that time, it was a rare sight to see a Spanish-singing musician collaborating with an American act on national TV, but it was an epic performance that helped catapult Juanes to global prominence.
“Every performance [at Latin Grammys] has sincerely been really cool,” Juanes, 47, told Pollstar, “and there have been so many [memorable] moments. When I was nominated in 2001 for Best New Artist, that was the key that opened doors to a lot of opportunities. Because of the nomination [and win], my music and career extended to many other parts of the world.”
Through his folk-tinged alt-rock brilliance and tireless philanthropic drive, Juanes proves his everlasting star power. For this reason, and many others, the Latin pop icon is 2019’s Latin Recording Academy’s Person of the Year at The Biggest Night in Latin Music.
The Colombian singer, composer and philanthropist will be celebrated at a tribute concert Nov. 13 at the MGM Grand Convention Center in Las Vegas. This as the Latin Recording Academy celebrates its 20th anniversary year.
Mario Alzat / @marioalzatee – Juanes
Juanes, pictured in Guadalajara, moments before taking the stage at Coordenada Festival.
But before the Colombian hit-maker became a 23-time Latin Grammy winner – the person with the second most wins ever (one behind Calle 13 ) – and a chart-topping mainstay, the new millennium introduced the world to a doe-eyed Medellín-dwelling newcomer with the street cred of a feral metal head. In 2000, Juanes (short for Juan Estevan) was breaking out fresh off his acclaimed solo debut, Fíjate Bien, the album that heralded the arrival of a new kind of Latin pop idol. With his background in hard rock and a deep appreciation for Colombian folklore, the rugged, swaggerful musician captured a sound that is nostalgic yet inventive and completely exhilarating.
No stranger to success, however, the singer/guitarist had already attained national acclaim in his home country during the ‘90s as the front-wailer of the thrash metal group Ekhymosis. This time, though, Juanes took a bet on reinventing himself, gathering the eclectic pieces of his creative past and synthesizing them into a style that is distinctively his own.
Born Juan Esteban Aristizábal Vásquez in 1972, Juanes grew up in a family that embraced music. He found solace jamming out on acoustic guitar with siblings – having been reared amid the narco drug terror (remember Pablo Escobar?) that once abounded in Medellín. Regional Colombian roots from Toto la Momposina’s bullerengue, to the porro of Joe Arroyo, and Grupo Niche’s salsa were some of his all-time favorites; and so were the regional Ibero-American folk styles of Caetano Veloso’s tropicalia, Silvio Rodriguez’s trova, and the tangos of Carlos Gardel.
Later, as a teenager, Juanes uncovered the fuming noise of hard rock, and found an affinity for local and socially outspoken metal from bands like Kraken. Inspired to unleash havoc with a purpose, the musician fronted Ekhymosis as singer and guitarist. “[With metal] I found inspiration, strength, anger, speed, concentration – everything I needed at 15 years old,” he explains. The artist, though, that made him reimagine music experimentation is his idol, vallenato revivalist Carlos Vives.
“He validated [the fusion of genres] which marked a before and after for me, inspirationally. When I would see him perform in concerts, mixing vallenato with rock and funk, I thought, ‘One day I want to do what he does,’” recalls the musician.
Surely so, upon his solo arrival, Juanes’ metallic flair paired with his affection for Ibero-American folklore, and an insatiable knack for crafting indelible guitar licks combined to turn him into a global superstar. His lyrics, too, showed a graceful simplicity that touched on topics from social issues to love-letter poetry and even brilliantly growling kiss-offs.
Juanes’ winning combination was instantly recognized by board members of the Latin Recording Academy, and garnered him a grand total of seven Latin Grammy nominations for the ceremony’s second installment in 2001. “I remember arriving in Miami [from Bogotá], and when I heard my name called seven times in the nominations, I went to the bathroom to cry because I couldn’t contain that emotion. It was a huge shock,” he recalls.
Gabriel Abaroa Jr., CEO of the Latin Recording Academy since 2010 and president since 2003, remembers meeting Juanes 19 years ago in Bogotá, shortly before all the nominations and awards. He shares, “I saw a very young kid bordering on fragile – what a mistake! Inside that being a solid foundation exists: Determined, ready to defend his values and beliefs. We had a brief exchange of words and I thought I was giving him good advice. After analyzing his deep eyes, I realized that he was screening me. I was having a conversation with a mature person disguised as a youngster. The same happens with his lyrics. They seem simple but are very complex. They have a meaning and a purpose, a beginning and an end.”
It’s that meaning and purpose that Juanes brought to the Latin Grammys’ first broadcast and its second annual ceremony. The first awards show premiered in 2000, presented by the Latin Recording Academy which had formed three years prior. It came into being because of Latin music’s growing market and increasing demand, led by a fresh crop of Latin pop stars like Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin, and Shakira.
Getty Images / Courtesty the Latin Grammys – Three of 23
Juanes in 2001 when he won three Latin Grammy Awards, including Mejor Nuevo Artista (best new artist) and the start of a two-decade long relationship with the Latin Recording Academy.
Although The Recording Academy had given Latin music some recognition since 1975 – beginning with awarding Best Latin Recording Grammy, and eventually adding a few more categories like Best Tropical and Best Latin Rock/Alternative – it was fairly impossible for the Academy to recognize Latin music’s wondrous array of genres and subgenres in US Latin, Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking territories.
The decision to create its Latin music counterpart was catalyzed in large measure by the huge success of Ricky Martin’s now-iconic performance of “The Cup of Life” at the 41st Grammy Awards ceremony on Feb. 24, 1999.
“It was historic then to see Spanish-speaking musicians in the telecast, performing on an American network [aired by CBS],” remembers Emilio Estefan, musician and producer who helped build the careers of Ricky Martin, Shakira, Carlos Vives, Gloria Estefan among many others towards crossover stardom.
“After the success with Ricky Martin, everybody opened their eyes and realized how important it was to bring diversity and the multi-ethnic elements that music represents.”
“The Recording Academy, who had been planning to start its Latin spin-off, couldn’t wait any longer. It was now or never,” Abaroa explains. Since 2003 when he was named president, Abaroa has guided both The Latin Recording Academy and Latin Grammys to financial stability and global grandeur. He was named CEO in 2010.
“I’ve closely seen the transparency of Gabriel’s leadership, and his clean and high values of handling business,” Erika Ender points out. The Panamanian singer-songwriter best known as co-author of the record-breaking smash hit “Despacito” has been close with the Latin Recording Academy since Abaroa Jr. became its leader. “He’s on top of everything and is always looking for excellence. But at the same time, he’s always looking for quality and does things with purpose, thus raising the bar at a global high,” she states.
The Latin Grammys – which airs music mostly in Spanish and Portuguese – was initially broadcasted by the English-language CBS. In 2005, however, the Latin Recording Academy made the move to partner with Univisión, the leading media company serving Hispanic America, a crucial transition spearheaded by Abaroa.
“[That move] was a key and pivotal moment in [the Latin Grammys’] popularity and its growth, because it embraced the Latin flavor,” says Ignacio Meyers, SVP of Univisión’s Entertainment and Music division. “We’ve been fortunate enough here at Univisión to see it through and see it grow since 2005.” Besides overseeing Latin Grammys’ creative development for TV, Meyers also leads the strategy of unscripted programming for Premio Lo Nuestro and Premios Juventud. He was also the Latin Recording Academy’s Director of Business Development in its early stages from 2002 to 2006.
“For a TV network to be able to amplify a membership-based organization is a big deal,” Meyers explains. “It’s good for the arts, and it’s good for music. It promotes and preserves Latin music in Spanish and Portuguese. It’s creators recognizing creators; it’s not about popularity. It’s about the active membership. The telecast is broadcasted in over 80 countries, and that doesn’t happen with a lot of shows that we broadcast in the United States for the U.S. Hispanic audience.”
“We’ve [introduced] a lot of breakout stars, like Ricky Martin and Juanes coming onto the scene,” he continues. “And we have also shown a lot of unique moments in Latin music performances. Just last year, I thought that Maná’s Person of the Year performance was amazing.”
R. Diamond / WireImage – Boom Boom Pow
Juanes with the Black Eyed Peas at the 4th Annual Latin Grammys Awards in 2003 where their breakthrough performance of “La Paga” and “Latin Girls” helped establish his career in the U.S. and far beyond.
“It is amazing to think that 20 years have gone by since my first Grammy experience,” Ricky Martin told Pollstar. “In 1999 Latin music took over the world. It’s been a whirlwind of emotions ever since, but it’s been beautiful. Here we are again watching as history repeats itself, and I couldn’t be more excited and proud of a new generation that is coming full force musically and lyrically, ready to spread a powerful message, one that needs to be heard.
“I’m really honored that I get to be a part of the 20th anniversary show, and to once again celebrate our culture and roots with the world,” said Martin, who co-host the ceremony for the first time alongside Paz Vega and Roselyn Sánchez. “I’m also nervous, of course, because it’s a big responsibility, but I’m ready.”
As other award shows might focus on the triumphs of chart-toppers and viral acts, the Latin Recording Academy’s main focus is highlighting exciting new musical acts and top-notch quality. Through its Best New Artist category, they’ve broken talent by ushering in a crop of newcomers that are now superstars. These include alt-urbano Puerto Rican duo Calle 13 (2006), Mexican singer/songwriters Jesse & Joy (2007), Colombian reggaeton doyenne Karol G (2018), and Juanes, who is a highlight of Latin Garmmy crossover history.
While helping spectacular talent break through to mainstream prominence is among the ceremony’s fortés, so is showcasing spectacular moments in both television and Latin music history (see page 29 for Top 20 Latin Grammy moments).
For example, 2002 saw Juanes in duet with Nelly Furtado, singing the poptimistic smash hit “A Dios Le Pido” and, after his appearance with the Black Eyed Peas and another with John Legend in 2008, Carlos Santana in 2012, and Miguel Bose in 2014, he took Chilean tropical-pop singer Mon Laferte under his wing in 2016 during the telecast’s 17th run. Their combined star power on stage eventually led the pair on a huge 2017 North American tour. (The year after, it’s worth noting, he performed with Logic and Alessia Cara). Indeed, Juanes’ live performance career across the globe is massive. According to Pollstar Boxoffice reports, with 223 shows reported, his touring gross is a whopping $51 million with an average gross of nearly $240K but some dates are more than double that. A sold-out gig at Los Angeles’ Forum in May 2018, for example, grossed $506K. In 2019 alone, the globe-trotting musician performed dates in Mexico City, Lima, Buenos Aires, Munich, Vienna, Budapest, Las Vegas, San José and far beyond.
Courtesy Mi Sangre – A Higher Purpose
Juanes’ charitable work includes his foundation Mi Sangre (My Blood), which he founded in 2006 in response to the treatment of landmine victims and which advocates for education and peace; and Paz Sin Fronteras, a series of free outdoor concerts he co-founded that aims to shatter political tensions created by international borders.
Though Juanes has become a Latin pop icon in his own right, his feet remain firmly planted, and he continues to give back to the community that raised him since his emergence in a huge way. In 2000’s earworm-y banger “Fíjate Bien,” Juanes addresses the societal adversities that occur in a violent environment amid war and terror. In turn, the socially conscious song inspired him to form his NGO, Fundación Mi Sangre, in 2006, which advocates for peace-building through the use of arts and sports.
“I use my music to channel inspiration for positivity,” Juanes explains. “When I released ‘Fíjate Bien,’ a lot of organizations reached out to me for support against the violence going on in Colombia. I wanted to get involved and was very motivated to do something positive about it. Meeting organizers and some of the victims changed my life, and it changed the way I think. I understood how important the issue was to Colombia.”
Rebeca Leon, founder of Lionfish Entertainment, a music management company that houses artists like Rosalía and Juanes, told Pollstar that, “I really believe in what they do at Juanes’ charity, Mi Sangre. It’s a methodology of creating agents of change, building community, and teaching kids to turn to music and sports instead of violence.
“The motto is, anybody who picks up the ball or an instrument will not pick up a gun. They’ve affected over a million children in Colombia, and many of them have become leaders and agents of change in their communities that were in horrible situations. Even schools have begun to apply this methodology, and other countries are now looking at what they’re doing because it has been so successful.” Another altruistic initiative Juanes co-founded is Paz Sin Fronteras, a series of free outdoor concerts that aims to shatter political tensions implemented by international borders, while inspiring peace-making through music performances. “Art changed my life completely as a kid and I believe in the power of music and art. It can create change,” Juanes says.
With his mastery of Latin pop and other genres and his tireless philanthropic advocacy, Juanes continues to promote a healthier and better world. For these reasons, the Latin Recording Academy will be honoring the Colombian star that recognition as Person of the Year Nov. 13 at the Gala, as part of the 20th installment of Latin Grammys.
Rick Diamond / WireImage – The Three Amigos
Manolo Diaz, SVP of the Latin Grammy Cultural Foundation, which in five years has allocated $5 mil. in scholarships, grants, and educational programs across the globe, with Juanes and Gabriel Abaroa, president/CEO of the Latin Recording Academy at the 4th annual Latin Grammys in 2003.
“I love the Grammy Gala because it’s a place where you see people playing their instruments and singing. Everything is very real, and that for me has been super important,” Juanes muses. “And also to have the opportunity to meet a lot of people I admire. Those have been the moments I cherish.” Juanes is in fact the only artist in Latin Grammy history to be awarded both Best New Artist and Person of the Year. This is a true testament of the Latin Recording Academy’s ability to distinguish breakout talent, while seeing their evolution into the worldwide leaders of Latin music.
He is currently nominated for two Record of the Year awards for “Querer Mejor,” featuring Alessia Cara and “La Plata”; “Querer Mejor” has also earned a Song of the Year nomination, meaning there’s a good chance he’ll either be tied for the most Latin Grammy awards or have the most ever. But his is a career that transcends awards and honors.
“When you think you have met the human, the artist then emerges,” says Abaroa about Juanes. “The combination is great because he has soul and the essence is simple: Help your peers, help your fellow countrymen, help the kids. Creating [art] to help is what makes Juanes unique and special. That is his magnet, that is his strength.”