Juanes Moves On With New Album

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October 10th, 2007

“This has been a time of experimentation, of seeking an identity,” says Juanes. “And this album is a lot closer to what I’ve always wanted to do.”


Only a few weeks ago, Juanes was in the news, thanks to a very public separation from his wife, combined with an affair with another woman. Monday night, though, his seemed to be a picture-perfect family life.

On his way home after spending most of the day shooting a commercial, the Colombian superstar gave an hour-long phone interview from Miami. From time to time, his calm, friendly voice was lost in a din of high-pitched screams: his 4- and 2-year-old daughters were singing in the car.

“We have a great friendship, a big love that’s still alive,” Juanes says of his marriage to model Karen Martínez. “We’re back together again. It makes me feel happy and calm, although the process was hard.”

Juanes, 35, traveled a bumpy road toward getting back with his wife. And that is reflected in his latest album, “La Vida… Es un Ratico” (Life… Is a Moment), where he sings as much about breakups and regret as he does about reconciliations and hope.

The singer’s fourth record is rolling out simultaneously in 77 countries on Oct. 23, but it already looks like a hit.

The first single, “Me Enamora,” entered Billboard’s Latin chart at the top three weeks ago and also debuted as No. 1 in Spain, Argentina, Colombia, Chile and all of Central America. Pre-sale orders at iTunes propelled the album to the top of the Latin chart five weeks before release.

The 12-time Grammy Award winner, who recently ditched his long hair, is getting even his own Juanes-fono: Sony Ericsson Latin America is selling a cell phone with the full album embedded in it.

Juanes will be in New York performing at 8 a.m. on the “Today” show on Oct. 22, the day before the release. That night, he will give a Sprint-sponsored private concert at The Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza.

Juanes’ label Universal is calling the worldwide launch “unprecedented” because he is the rare crossover hit artist who has done it without singing in English.

“I love English-language music,” he says. “[But] singing in Spanish represents staying faithful to what I am, to the place I was born. It’s not some sort of romanticism because I dream in Spanish, I think in Spanish, and I want to showcase my music in the language that springs from my soul.”

Several of Juanes’ new songs deal with love in the times of conflict. There are songs about breaking up like “Clase de Amor,” where Juanes warns in a tango-crooner voice that “you have no choice but to pay”; reproachful songs like “Hoy Me Voy,” and regretful ones like the ballad “Difícil.”

“[They speak] about love, though not about the aspects I’ve dealt with in previous records, but the other: reality, facing your fears, what relationships mean after all,” says Juanes, born Juan Esteban Aristizábal.

But he also sings about making up and looking ahead (“La Vida Es un Ratico,” “Gotas de Agua Dulce”), about being friends with his loved one (“La Mejor Parte de Mí”) and, of course, about being in love (“Me Enamora”).

“The songs are very much about life; they show a part of my personal life that I had to go through,” Juanes says. “I wanted to portray that pain not in a negative way, but dancing away pain.”

Juanes is, after all, an optimist.

That is apparent in the album’s title, which came from a piece of advice doled out by his 78-year-old mother: Life’s short to waste your time worrying about problems you cannot solve. And it’s evident in the infectious rhythms that have become a Juanes trademark, only this time they come with some mean guitars.

“There’s more of a trend toward a basic rock sound,” Juanes says of his work, “but joining that with elements from traditional Colombian music.

“I’ve always liked rock, I feel more identified with that stream,” he adds. “This has been a time of experimentation, of seeking an identity. And this album is a lot closer to what I’ve always wanted to do and never had the chance to [do].”

Juanes and Oscar-winning producer Gustavo Santaolalla — who has worked with him on all his records — decided to forgo loops and record everything live. They wanted the final product to carry the energy on display in Juanes’ shows.

That rockero attitude is very clear in the choice of guest artists.

One of them is rock en español mainstay Andrés Calamaro from Argentina, who joined Juanes in “Minas Piedras,” a new protest of the land mines that plague Colombian soil. The other is Campino (Andreas Frege), of legendary German punk rockers Die Toten Hosen, who lent his voice to the anti-racist “Bandera de Manos.”

Juanes says he summoned them for those particular songs because he needs help to make those issues more visible. He has become a more involved artist himself with the creation two years ago of his Mi Sangre foundation, which works to provide mine survivors with psychological rehabilitation and education. He recently launched a preschool program for kids under 5 in 42 towns of his home region of Antioquía.

That’s part of his response to the Colombian civil war, which started before he was born and doesn’t look to end anytime soon.

“I don’t know a country at peace,” Juanes says.

He has very strong opinions about the conflict. He says leftist guerrillas have become “a mafia” living off the drug trade, but he also opposes the current policy of all-out war against narco-trafficking. He supports decriminalizing marijuana and coca cultivation.

“Colombia pays for this with shame, with humiliation, with deaths, and the whole world enjoys the drugs,” he says.

After his previous album, “Mi Sangre,” took him on a 31-country, 19-month tour, Juanes is getting ready to go back to that transient life. This time, though, he intends to play fewer concerts at bigger venues.

“I love to play, I find it fascinating,” he says. “It’s what I most enjoy, until I reach a level of mental and physical exhaustion that forces me to stop.”

During this tour, he says, he will try to come home every once in a while, or take his wife and daughters with him, to prevent long separations.

The couple’s recent temporary breakup — and his public admission of infidelity — were on magazine covers. But Juanes says he feels no regret in showing his intimate side to the world. Besides, he says, “I couldn’t be more naked than I am in my songs, because that’s where reality is.”

However public that separation was, two of the people closest to him, daughters Luna and Paloma, did not hear about it.

“They are very young; we didn’t want to get them involved. It didn’t make any sense,” Juanes says. “Someday we’ll tell them what happened, but for now, it’s not necessary.”