Illya Kuryaki & The Valderramas show others how to reunite successfully
By Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie
Breaking up, usually, is hard to do. But what about making up?
What about getting back together when both parties are artists and there are egos, the need for individual creativity, the pride of going solo, etc. involved?
In the English-language music market, we all know of legendary cases of bands that broke up forever, to the chagrin of millions of fans the world over: The Beatles and Abba are two examples of groups that produce the most longing and nostalgia in their admirers.
Then there are others that reunited in different incarnations or went on hiatus and then toured again, with a current output that seldom matches their previous glories: Blondie, Duran Duran, Van Halen, to name a few.
In rock and pop en español there have been some notorious cases as well. Take Mecano, for example, once considered the best Spanish pop act in the world (many fans still hold to that). La Quinta Estación and La Oreja de Van Gogh lost something when the former took an indeterminate break from one another and the latter group changed lead singers (and that’s a whole other phenomenon, losing the vocalist who gave the group its stamp and never regaining their mojo. Think INXS, Journey, Queen).
A decade ago, Argentine alt/rock/punk/soul/hip-hop masters Illya Kuryaki & The Valderramas (pictured above), or IKV, called it quits. They never quite achieved the critical mass following of a band like Maná, but they produced highly original music that critics admired and fans loved.
The duo, made up of Dante Spinetta (son of Argentine rock legend Luis Alberto Spinetta) and longtime friend Emmanuel “Emma” Horvilleur, went their separate ways and continued working in the business. They released albums, toured, won nominations and awards … And yet, that big-time hit eluded them.
That was then. This is now.
The guys got back together and last year their record label, Sony Music Latin, took a chance on their 14-track album Chances. They released a witty ditty called Ula Ula, featuring Puerto Rican singer/songwriter Raquel Sofía. Alternative and retro at the same time, the song has been chosen by Target to be the theme of its summer promo campaign. What is remarkable about the 10- and 30-second TV spots is that although the ads are in English, the track is performed in Spanish.
This has made Ula Ula, with its nod to the old “hula hulas,” into a viral hit, and the fact that Oprah Winfrey tweeted about how much she liked it, was a nice bonus.
I asked IKV what it felt like to enjoy this new round of success.
“After 10 years of being apart, getting back together was something we had pending … and once we decided to go for it, everything just moved forward,” Horvilleur writes via e-mail from Argentina.
“We went into the studio hesitantly at first, but in a few days we were writing a ton of songs, encouraged by the first one we wrote called Helicópteros. After the album then came the tours, one better than the other. We are enjoying the trips, the cultures, the people, even the different kinds of food. We are on the road with Chances, high on the music and on the joy that comes with living it.”
IKV have been around since 1991, taking their moniker from the worlds of pop culture and sports: the Illya Kuryaki was the name of a character in the 1960s TV classic (and about to be reworked by Hollywood), The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and the Valderramas is in honor of flamboyant Colombian soccer player Carlos Valderrama, he of the wild blond afro.
Did these bad boys of rock sell out with Target? No, they simply wised up.
They realized that getting back together and making good music was just not enough in today’s hyper-competitive and atomized musical landscape. IKV have to navigate the more-than-ever entwined waters of art, commerce, and publicity to target the right audience. That’s what they did, and it is working.
Had Spinetta and Horvilleur been seen in the ad hawking something, then perhaps the discussion would be different. But mercifully they did not. Because, is there really someone out there who goes out to purchase a produce on a service based on what a star says on TV?
In today’s commercial Latin music scene, there seems to be little room for Black talent
By Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie
Everywhere on English-language commercial radio you hear them, sing along with them, and dance to their music. Black performers – from either the United States or Great Britain – have been creating phenomenally successful, arresting, and catchy music for many, many years.
And I’m not even referring to the hip-hop revolution, or to all-female groups, or the artists that for decades have been a part of the American and British music scenes.
I am thinking more of newer performers like Scotland’s awesome Emeli Sandé, currently featured, well, almost everywhere. She’s on the soundtrack of the new film version of The Great Gatsby; on TV’s American Idol’s season finale; on radio with her soaring hit Next to Me; and in the upcoming Made in America music festival (August 31 and September 1 in Philadelphia), along with Nine Inch Nails, Calvin Harris, and Beyoncé, among other artists.
Then of course you have raucous Rihanna, who obviously loves to court controversy, and who is – like the name of her 2012 album – unapologetic about it. This Barbadian powerhouse may not be everyone’s ticket (thanks to Chris Brown), but she undeniably and consistently belts out music that is hard to ignore.
And perhaps the most polarizing is Onika Tanya Maraj. ¿Quién? Perhaps you know her better as Nicki Minaj. Whether acting out on American Idol and arguing with fellow judge Mariah Carey; donning ever more outrageous outfits, wigs and makeup; or releasing crazy music, like Starships; the rapper from Trinidad is an animated and original provocateur.
But when I try to find a female performer of African ancestry who’s having this kind of impact right now on Latin music and pop culture, it seems the choices are slim. And superstars? None. Cuban Celia Cruz (pictured above) was the alpha and the omega. Why hasn’t anyone else been able to follow in her footsteps?
The truth is there will only be one Celia Cruz. She became an international star late in life after having been a Latin estrella in the macho world of salsa. So she transcended. Other Cuban female performers have had their time in the spotlight, but seemingly ages ago: La Lupe, Omara Portuondo, Freddy.
Puerto Rico gave us Lucy Fabery, Ruth Fernández, Carmen Delia Dipini. Mexico blessed us with Toña La Negra. And Peru still has of course Afro-Peruvian legends Susana Baca and Eva Ayllón.
Portuguese-language performers like Cesária Évora, from Cape Verde, or Virginia Rodrigues, from Brazil, never escaped the “world” music label (and probably could’ve cared less).
The latest hope appears to be Concha Buika, who hails from Spain although her family is from Equatorial Guinea. The exuberant Latin Grammy award winner and Miami Beach resident (pictured below) just released, on June 4, her latest album, La noche más larga (Warner Music Latina); begins a series of presentations in the U.S. on June 11; and later on in the fall, embarks on a full-fledged tour of the United States.
Critics in this country have raved about her music ever since she made her American debut in 2007, and she does have a devout group of admirers everywhere she goes. But still our radio does not support the type of music she performs, whether coplas or flamenco or jazz or blues or covers of great songs, and so her reach remains limited.
Can Buika get a break with Latino audiences? Will she get a break?
Recently I saw her in the movie The Skin I Live In, by Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar. As it used to be with Blacks in Hollywood, she was the diversion in the movie playing a performer who was one of the only artists of color in that 2011 film.
For this versatile singer who once worked in Las Vegas impersonating Tina Turner (!), collaborating with Almodóvar was a fantastic opportunity. And yet, I couldn’t help but think that, as is often the case with Latin movies and TV, Buika was treated as an exotic creature, and the general absence of Black faces (at least in major and dignified roles) is still very much a sad reality.
In our music as well.
What does it mean when heads of state succumb to the music?
By Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie
The sight of a president dancing seems to inspire as many interpretations as steps can exist in a particular dance routine.
For me, this sort of (usually) discombobulated manifestation is a mixed bag: sometimes it can signify that the person in charge is human after all, not totally imprisoned by the protocol and the trappings of the office. Other times it reeks of pandering to constituents, of trying a tad too hard to seem like us, when we all know that heads of state have the comforts and conveniences most of the planet can only dream about.
On May 25, Argentina celebrated the 203 anniversary of its “May revolution” which would lead to independence from Spain a few years later. This time, the events coincided with a decade of “Kirchnerism,” that is, of having a Kirchner as president: first it was Néstor Kirchner, president from 2003 to 2007, and who unexpectedly died in 2010; then it was his wife Cristina Fernández, who followed in 2007 and got reelected in 2011.
As the celebration of the decade-long “K” government unfolded in front of Casa Rosada, or Buenos Aires’ famous Pink House, Fernández de Kirchner – or just Cristina as she is known by everyone from the media to the man on the street – did something she’s quite fond of doing: dancing. This time it was to electronica.
In the past, she’s danced to ethnic beats in Luanda, Angola; when she was reelected she swayed to the tune Avanti Morocha; and she moved to the rhythm of a batucada while visiting the Tecnópolis science park in Buenos Aires in 2012.
So she’s having fun, her admirers will say in her defense. She’s an embarrassment, her detractors will argue. They both may be right to some degree. What isn’t up for debate is the fact that Argentina is so polarized right now, so divided as a society, that I don’t see much reason to be shimmying.
Especially when this president is facing all kinds of accusations of corruption, inflation hovers between 25 and 30 percent (not according to official figures though which have been widely discredited), a sense of insecurity and crime are rampant, independent media feel under siege, a reform of the country’s judicial system has been shoved down people’s throats, and on and on and on.
Is Mrs. Kirchner dancing on her grave? Or on those of her adversaries? Public funds of over 2 million pesos (a little bit over $379,000 at the official rate) were spent by her administration to set up the stage for the festivities on the 25th, according to Argentine newspaper La Nación. Guess she really wanted to dance on that stage after all.
To her credit though, she hasn’t started singing. We couldn’t say the same for her deceased friend comandante Hugo Chávez Frías, who loved to dance and sing in public thereby endearing himself even more to the masses who adored him. Venezuela may have been going up in flames, but you would’ve never guessed from Chávez’s artistic performances. He liked to commingle with rappers, or identify himself with them, especially with Puerto Rico’s Calle 13.
Ecuador’s Rafael Correa seems to go more for the folkloric as well as Bolivia’s Evo Morales. And former Peruvian president Alan García, a salsa fan, has his own inimitable style with plenty of online videos showing him boogieing.
Of course, one need not go all the way down south to see leaders dancing. Here at home, we’ve had our share as well.
Who can forget George Bush and Ricky Martin comparing moves on the same stage in 2001, or the former president and Mrs. Bush showing off their version of some African dance at the White House’s Rose Garden? And what about President Obama finding his Latin groove with Thalía? (Where is security when you need them?)
The web is also full of parodies of world leaders dancing, either to Gangnam Style (again, Chávez), or to, umm, El zancudo loco (with Fidel Castro in a skirt).
But perhaps no one embodied the sheer joie de vivre of letting loose in front of the world better than deceased former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, who always seemed to be the life of the party, with or without vodka. And yet, we all know how that party ended for the Russians.
How will it end for all these other guys and gals then?
All over the Americas, there are musical sounds worth enjoying
By Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie
Don’t let the Latin music awards shows fool you. There are plenty more artists who may never get to be on one of their red carpets, but who are worth checking out.
They may lack the support of well-known radio stations, or big splashy publicity campaigns from their record labels; they could also just enjoy doing their thing a little bit under the radar. But through social media, digital outlets, concerts, alternative and college radio, and good ol’ word of mouth, they can still have their music discovered and enjoyed by many.
Here are a few interesting cases:
A Puerto Rican singer and songwriter who’s been around since 1987 (hey, it’s never too late to bloom!), Alma Iris Acosta – or Ámbar – has a wide musical repertoire that includes dance, tropical rhythms, ballads, pop, merengue, bachata, and more.
Last year she released her seventh album, Libre, and its single Mi corazón no se compra, recorded with Dominican rapper El Cata (you may remember him from his collaborations with Shakira in Loca and Rabiosa), entered Billboard’s top 25 tropical tracks chart. Another big name that has worked with Ámbar: urban superstar Don Omar, who produced her song No pares de bailar.
· Daniel Rodríguez
He was a policeman. He is a tenor. He is the singing cop who got a taste of fame after singing God Bless America in the funerals of colleagues who perished in New York City’s attacks on 9/11. When the media got wind of that, they reported his story, and he was on his way to fulfilling his dream of becoming an operatic and inspirational singer.
Since then, Daniel Rodríguez (pictured below) has parlayed his talents into a musical career that has been blessed by Plácido Domingo and that has led him to help in lots of benefits and charitable causes. Of Puerto Rican extraction and born in Brooklyn, he’s released several albums, with his most recent one, Por ti volaré, scheduled for June 4.
· Dom La Nena
Can we say multicultural here or what? Because that is precisely the spirit – and the sounds – that Dom La Nena (Dominique Pinto), embodies. Brazil is her birthplace, she grew up in France and in Argentina, but it is her Brazilian heritage that mostly comes across her lyrics sung in Spanish and Portuguese. Check out her album Ela, released by Six Degrees, and the video for the track No meu país.
· Gusttavo Lima
For a while there, radio couldn’t get enough of Michel Teló and his monster hit Ai se eu te pego. The Brazilian cavalcade, however, did not end there. Also reaching number one on the music charts in several countries last year was Gusttavo Lima, who made his mark with the song Balada (Tchê tcherere tchê tchê).
Born Nivaldo Batista Lima, he is one of the few artists on this list who did receive a big promotional push by a record label (Sony Music Latin). That hit song, part of his album Gusttavo Lima e Vocé, saw its success increase thanks to remixes featuring artists like Cuban rapping megastar Pitbull and Puerto Rican urban duo Dylan & Lenny.
· Juan Esteban
Earlier this year, a song called Bum, bum, bum made it to Billboard’s tropical chart. Singing it was Juan Esteban, a Cuban American vocalist who studied music and even got a chance to sing opera. He’s already opened shows for some of salsa’s heavyweights, including Gilberto Santa Rosa and Jerry Rivera; has a self-titled debut album out, and last month released a new single, Qué Pena.
Though he has a name more suited for telenovelas (by the way: there was an old and very famous soap opera called Renzo el gitano, or Renzo the Gypsy), New York-born Dominican Renzo René Oviedo Boitel (pictured above) wanted from an early age to leave his mark on music.
In 2011, he danced at the Dominican Republic’s most important entertainment awards show, and this year, a new indie label, Mayimba Music, signed him on. Renzo already has a track among the top 20 spots of the tropical charts, his first single, the urban merengue Mi Favorita, and a video of the same is now out.
· More artists offering a bit of everything: from Argentina, tango and jazz with the Escaladrum sextet, under the helm of Daniel Piazzolla, and the all-female tropipunk band Kumbia Queers. From Chile, Ana Tijoux (whom I’ve mentioned in this column before), and the group Astro. From Colombia, Ondatrópica, now on tour. From Cuba, cubatón performer Osmani García, notorious for his song El Chupi Chupi. From Mexico, electronic cumbia group Sonido Desconocido II. And from Uruguay, El Cuarteto de Nos. Oh, and back to our own country’s most Latin American city, Miami: reggae-ska-cumbia band Bachaco, in concert on the 25th at PAX (Performing Arts Exchange), as part of their 2013 summer tour.
How Gian Marco triumphed without selling his soul
By Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie
In this era of relentless self-promotion, vapid social media narcissism, and red carpet overdosing, it is always refreshing – and unusual – to find an artist who lets his craft speak for himself. Gian Marco is one of those.
The Peruvian singer/songwriter/musician has been around for 20 years now, and somehow he’s always managed to stay under the radar. Part of it has been, I suspect, the media’s ho-hum attitude towards him due to his lack of controversy. It’s in part also because of the way he handles himself: a family man whose ego is not mountain-sized, who left Miami – the city where he launched his international career – to return to his native Lima so his kids would grow up there, who has helped reenergize that city’s live music scene, and who has managed to maintain a consistently creative path all along.
Lately, that path has been taking some interesting turns.
On Tuesday May 21, Gian Marco was part of a select group of artists (including Patti Austin, Michael Feinstein, and Arturo Sandoval, among others), who honored Carole King as she received the 2013 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
And that’s a big deal, gente: King, if you remember, made music history with songs like (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, I Feel the Earth Move, and one that has been a favorite of Gian Marco’s for years, You’ve Got a Friend. With this award, the songstress and composer joined renowned past recipients such as Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, and Sir Paul McCartney.
The 42-year-old and three-time Latin Grammy award winner Gian Marco Zignago also has a new album coming out on the 27th of this month, Versiones, which he recorded earlier this year in Los Angeles.
Available in digital and physical formats, Versiones features 14 songs, in English, Spanish, and Portuguese that have captured the hearts of music lovers everywhere, but especially in Latin America and in Spain, for generations.
Mixing eras and styles, and including two tracks of his own as well, Gian Marco shows his versatility as a crooner singing classics like Perfidia (oh, what a great name for a song that is!), by Mexican composer Alberto Domínguez Borrás; La flor de la canela, by Peruvian singing star and songwriter Chabuca Granda; and Capullito de alelí, by Puerto Rican maestro Rafael Hernández.
What makes this project also particularly interesting to me is that Gian Marco had the album produced by a man most commonly thought of as a music virtuoso, Cuban jazz trumpeter/pianist/composer Arturo Sandoval.
Sandoval, along with co-producer Gary Grant, took the reins of this project and gave it at times a “big band” feel.
A few days ago, I asked the Peruvian singer why he had chosen Sandoval to be at the helm of Versiones, and this is what he wrote to me by e-mail:
“The versatility and talent of Arturo Sandoval are unquestionable the world over. Sometimes we tend to typecast musicians according to the music they make, but we knew from the beginning that this great project deserved the special attention that can come from a musician of his quality, talent, and above all, experience.”
Gian Marco explained to Sandoval the concept he had in mind, he goes on, and a few minutes later, both men were sitting at the piano looking for songs.
“The chemistry was immediate. Arturo, along with Gary Grant, gathered the best musicians, the best arrangers, to constitute that team that would make Versiones,” he states.
An album that he dedicated to his parents, both artists, and to the great composer and authors he chose. Perhaps one day he will be among those songwriters remembered, since Gian Marco has always been in high demand from other singers (Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony, Alejandro Fernández, etc.) to write for them. You didn’t know that? Well, the man doesn’t like to make too much noise.
Performers entangled in that country’s political mess
By Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie
These days, the way things are going in Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro may be secretly wishing for The Ramones’ classic tune I Wanna Be Sedated to become reality.
Since he suspiciously eked out a controversial win over opposition leader Henrique Capriles in April’s Venezuelan presidential elections, not much has been going well for the mustachioed former bus driver and vice president.
His deceased predecessor, Hugo Chávez Frías, anointed the charisma-deprived Maduro to continue the comandante’s “Bolivarian revolution,” and so far that has meant ruling over a dangerously divided country with an atrociously mishandled economy, a poisonous political atmosphere, and the stench of electoral fraud.
Last thing Maduro probably thought would give him a headache then was … music.
A few days ago, news reports surfaced indicating that Brazilian singer and songwriter Roberto Carlos would sue the Venezuelan leader for illegal public use of sections of his song Detalles during an event in April. According to the Folha de São Paulo daily, the crooner does not usually allow his music to be used for political purposes.
During his campaign to sit in the Palacio de Miraflores, Maduro had to contend with an unexpected musical “tribute” to him by salsa legend Willie Colón. The New Yorker of Puerto Rican extraction (pictured above) released a song online, Mentira Fresca (Fresh Lie), which lambasts the Venezuelan without naming him. It is a fiery salsa that harkens back to the glory days of Fania, when this genre of Latin music really had something to say and championed social change.
Maduro, who actually looks like a C-rate tropical performer one would see on a Miami low-budget variety show, fumed and accused Colón of falling “into the mud.” Maduro called his music a “rumba of hatred” and went on some U.S.-bashing in regards to Puerto Rico’s political status. As was to be expected.
What is significant about this is that Colón, beloved in Venezuela for years, took a stance, knowing that he risked losing numerous fans and shows (i.e., money), and that his reputation would be attacked by pro-government forces.
Even fellow Puerto Rican René Pérez, of urban group Calle 13, got into a heated debate with him by tweeting: “Poor old man, artistically he has lived and will live under the shadow of maestro [Rubén] Blades.”
It’s also been reported that Colón received death threats.
Colón made a solid case for defending his freedom of expression and opining about Venezuela’s political process with this statement he gave Puerto Rican daily Primera Hora: “Well, Fidel [Castro] is not Venezuelan, neither is Oliver Stone nor Sean Penn, who said that whomever calls Castro a dictator should go to jail. They are liberals, they go to Cuba and hug the leaders, but then they leave on their private planes and when they get to their country, they go back to live in their mansions with all their luxuries.”
Many other Latin artists may feel the same way, but because Venezuela has always been an important and lucrative market, especially for tropical music performers, they prefer to remain in complicit silence.
One of the exceptions has been Spanish singer, composer, and musician Alejandro Sanz (pictured below), who’s been declared persona non grata since he started criticizing the Chávez regime in 2004 and had concerts cancelled by the Venezuelan government in 2007 and 2008. This did prompt at least a hundred or so entertainment and sports figures, including Penélope Cruz, David Beckham, Jennifer López, Maná and even Calle 13, to sign a letter in support of their artistic colleague over what had happened.
The letter, which gathered celebrities of different political persuasions, was an unusual act of solidarity. But other than that, it’s pretty much been business as usual.
Maduro too has used music to his advantage. He answered Colón by appropriating the Eddie Palmieri track Sujétate la lengua (Bite your tongue), and his supporters changed the chorus of PSY’s hit Gangnam Style to include Maduro’s name at political rallies.
Then, just this week, in what is a rather strange case, Maná issued a press release, through its Twitter account and its management office, Angelo Medina Group, denying the veracity of a photo circulating on the web and via social media that purportedly presents the band with some text on it in alleged support of opposition leader Capriles.
In their view, they state, “… we firmly believe that it must be Venezuelans, and only the Venezuelans, who must decide their political future ...”
They are 100 percent right in denouncing the photo if it is indeed fake, but, no political stance from one of Latin music’s most outspoken, socially and environmentally conscious bands? Especially after having signed the Sanz letter? Sounds like most everything else in politics: wishy-washy.
Where is one of Latin music’s most intriguing performers?
By Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie
When it comes to the sound, lyrics, or even style of today’s Latin pop music stars, few make me do a double take. Rita Indiana is an exception.
I remember first hearing of this Dominican singer and songwriter in 2010. But it wasn’t until I saw the video for her song La hora de volvé (The time to go back), that I started wondering, Who is this person???
The video is like a Caribbean rum-soaked Dalí painting come to life. Subtle and sweet it isn’t. I’d say it’s more spicy and subversive than anything else.
Impossibly tall and slim, with an androgynous image that shouts “I look like a boy, and so what?” Rita Indiana is definitely not your every day artist. That particular song is a rapid-fire amalgam of tropical cadences, electronic mischief, and Dominican street lyrics that would intimidate even the fiercest male rapper.
La hora de volvé appears in what was her debut album, El Juidero (hard to translate, but it’s something like a mad rush in which everyone leaves running), released in 2010 by the Premium Latin Music record label. Her own band accompanies her and so the official artistic name is Rita Indiana y Los Misterios.
But more than that name, there is a bigger mystery around Rita Indiana: whatever happened to her?
Rita Indiana Hernández, in her early 30s, was emerging from the underground music scene in Santo Domingo to become a viable force in the alternative music world. NPR Music featured her; several news outlets in Spain and in Latin America took notice; in 2011 she had a New York City tour that culminated with a performance at the famous Latin Alternative Music Conference (LAMC).
She wrote short stories and poetry. She had two novels published: La estrategia de Chochueca and Papi. She had incisive songs out there, like Maldito Feisbu (for Facebook). She was openly gay. She was apparently… fearless.
Her page at the Premium Latin Music website has not been updated since the release of El Juidero. A Dominican publicist told me that she was no longer affiliated with the label, so I wrote a contact at that music company but did not get a response.
The news regarding Rita Indiana in what seems like her official artist website, or an official fan club page, has been frozen since 2011. The last login in the band’s MySpace account is from 2010 (a similar page has the last update going back to 2011), while her own page, if it is indeed hers, also lacks any new information.
So, is she back? Did she ever go away? And if so, where?
I’ve heard several stories.
My Dominican publicist friend told me she simply had had enough of the media scrutiny and chucked it all away in search of a more anonymous life. Similarly, a Dominican journalist said to me that she was quietly living in South Florida (she had been residing in Puerto Rico for about a decade), and wanted nothing to do with the artistic world.
There have been no interviews or a new album released for a long time now, only several Tweets, the latest one from April 17. From reading that Twitter account, it sure sounds like she is in the Dominican Republic and has had some performances. But, is that the case?
In very Garbo-esque fashion, this only increases the interest in the artist, of course. I would dare say that many people in the entertainment business have this insatiable need for recognition and hunger for fame, that go beyond whether they can express their artistic side or not. It’s all about the craft! Right. The perks of celebrity and the money that can come with it are an irresistible siren’s call.
Rarely then does one ever hear of an artist who, by choice, leaves that life behind, fades away into anonymity, and devotes his or her life to something else. If Rita Indiana is one of these strange birds, that makes her even more alluring, fascinating, and provocative than any other performer out there right now.
Do you know whatever became of Rita Indiana?
Music has played a key role in the way we see the country
By Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie
Like so many of his countrymen, Colombian singer/songwriter/musician Juan Fernando Fonseca, simply known as Fonseca, has not given up on his birthplace.
So much so, that for him, helping promote an image of Colombia that goes beyond the generally biased media views of the South American nation, is as important to him as his music.
Music that, although inspired by Colombia, comes with Fonseca’s own particular sensibility. This is not folk music, guys. His sounds are modern yet traditional, rich but not heavy-handed. All this is evident in his latest CD, Ilusión (Sony Music Latin), which he is currently promoting as part of a world tour that began this month in Dallas, with a stop in Miami Beach on April 26th and in Seattle by mid-May.
Throughout this sojourn, Fonseca, who about a year ago quietly moved to Miami in search of new markets and to broaden his base internationally, makes sure that Colombia gets a fair shake.
His Ilusión World Tour is sponsored jointly by the Colombian airline Avianca - which is now flying high in an expansion mode - and Marca Colombia, an initiative of the Colombian government to promote that country’s brand. A brand that has benefited tremendously from music (I can’t remember something similar happening with any other nation recently).
“For me, this is a very important alliance, because it’s something that’s always been part of my concerts. I try to be an ambassador to the music of my country, and every time I’m on tour, I invite people to visit Colombia,” Fonseca shared with me recently in Miami, before heading on the road for his tour.
“This is something personal that I’ve been doing for a long time because of what I think is the obsession that we as Colombians have to always redeem our country,” said the 33-year-old artist.
“Things today in Colombia are very different from what they were 15 years ago or so, and we want people to know that. We want them to know what Colombia really is.”
And among the many things it is, one can include “musical powerhouse.” What is it about this land that has produced so many talented artists in the last two decades alone?
From the untimely death of Soraya to the superstardom of Shakira, the successful comeback of Juanes, the unexpected return of Carlos Vives, the fresh sounds of Cabas, the party atmosphere of Bomba Estéreo, the incomparable majesty of Totó La Momposina, the exponential growth of the cumbia genre and its stars, the rediscovery of vallenato (in no small part thanks to Vives himself), the salsa of Grupo Niche, urban music, and the new generation of young artists … It’s all there. Colombia is an inexhaustible, Amazonic stream of talent flowing out into the world.
“In people’s minds, Colombia has changed a lot, and when they think about it, one of the things they think about is music,” added Fonseca.
Of course, none of this has been easy, not for a country besieged by decades of guerrilla warfare, narcoterrorism, land disputes, poverty, and more. Nor has it been easy for some performers who have experienced the fickle nature of the public at large as well as the dramatic changes in the music industry.
Many artists - think Charlie Zaa, Carolina La O, Fanny Lu, Los Tri-O - have had their peaks and valleys. Some disappear. Or they may hold on and find a second wind. They may also begin to emerge slowly but surely, like Fonseca.
The Bogotá-born performer, husband, and father, who stays far away from scandal sheets, first burst onto the music-scene with a 2002 debut album titled Fonseca. After that came Corazón and his first international hit, Te mando flores.
Since then, Fonseca has won Latin Grammy awards, Billboard Latin Music Awards, been nominated to a Grammy (he lost it to his good friend and South Florida neighbor Juanes, so it’s all cool, he said), and reached the top of the charts.
All the while working diligently in different philanthropic initiatives, such as music workshops offered to former soldiers and paramilitary forces so as to help them integrate themselves again into Colombian society through a program titled “Cuenta Conmigo” (Count On Me); a United Nations-sponsored that campaign strives to prevent violence against women; and a campaign to raise awareness of children being recruited into combat that he promotes in collaboration with Juanes.
Then of course, there is again that message he carries with him at all time about Colombia - that there is so much more to discover. He also knows that peace is frail, that a robust economy can nosedive, and that there are still major problems to be solved.
But he is doing his part. Will the world listen? As long as it listens to Fonseca’s music, there is a chance that it will.