News Column

Juanes shakes off career blues with memoir and acoustic tour

May 31, 2013


May 31--There's been a lot of reflecting -- and creative recharging -- the past couple of years for Colombian pop-rock star Juanes.

Last year, he released his first live album and video, "Juanes MTV Unplugged," and launched his current "Loud & Unplugged" tour, which comes to El Paso on Saturday.

This year, Juanes published his memoir, "Chasing the Sun" (the Spanish version is called "Persiguiendo el Sol"), won his second Grammy Award and 18th and 19th Latin Grammys, and made some of the highest-profile U.S. TV appearances of his career.

It's been three years since his last studio album, the moderately successful "P.A.R.C.E.," came out. But the man born Juan Esteban Aristizabal Vasquez sounds like he can't wait to get

back into the studio.

"I'm ready to record my new album. We'll be recording in August," the singer and guitarist said from a tour stop last week in Mountain View, Calif.

"I've (been) writing these last few years and I'm excited about it and can't wait to go."

He'll have to wait a little longer. Juanes, 40, is in the midst of the 28-city North American leg of his "Loud & Unplugged" tour that launched May 17 in Bakersfield, Calif. -- where he invited members of the United Farmworkers of America to attend his final dress rehearsal -- and ends June 30 in Tampa, Fla., near his adopted home of Miami.

It's his first largely acoustic tour, and it has gotten rave reviews. The Spanish website Terra called it "brilliant and

emotional." Univision said: "Juanes and his bandmates have never sounded tighter."

It's been a different kind of concert experience for the headbanger-turned-Latin pop star, who wasn't sure if the band configuration that worked so well on a one-off TV special, would translate to the concert stage. It includes a horn section and backup singers.

"At the beginning, I was a little bit concerned, you know, about the number of musicians on stage," he said of the 12-piece band. "But when we finished the record and rehearsals for the tour, I (began) to feel so comfortable with this setup. We have been touring almost a year and I'm having the best time ever ... on stage. I never worked before with background vocalists or horns. For me, it's a new approach, and it was fantastic."

The "MTV Unplugged" album is the sixth solo effort for the Colombian rocker, who has sold 16 million records worldwide; strung together several international hits, including "Es por Ti," "Para tu Amor" and "A Dios le Pido"; and whose videos get millions of eyeballs on YouTube.

The project also was a way to recharge his batteries after "P.A.R.C.E." The frustrated singer fired his manager and started looking for new inspiration with the

stripped-down "Unplugged" concert, which was filmed on Feb. 1, 2012, in Miami and released May 29, 2012.

"It's always hard to do something different and fresh," he said, "so ... I went back to my early days and relearned to play the (acoustic) guitar. It was a really good exercise for me, a way to remember my essence at that moment."

The tour follows a long period of reflection that included writing "Chasing the Sun." The memoir chronicles his youth from his life in in Medellin, ground zero for Colombia's bloody drug war in the 1990s, to his first big musical venture with Ekyhmosis, an American-style metal band that recorded seven albums.

"Yeah, it was exactly the same exercise (as 'Unplugged')," he said. "I don't know if it is because of my age or whatever it is, but I wanted to redefine the way I do things."

In the book, Juanes revisits his father's death, the early days of his career, going solo and growing up in a country torn apart by drug cartel violence, similar to what Juarez and other Mexican cities have experienced in recent years. One of his friends was among 19 people executed in a Medellin bar. The fear of those times manifested itself in the music.

"In our lyrics, we sang about what we didn't understand, we asked questions, we vented our pain and frustration," he writes. "Slowly but surely, music was becoming at once a powerful means of expression and a means of escape. We clung to it as if our lives depended on it, and we gave it everything we had, back then and still today."

Juanes has come a long way since then. In addition to being a singer, songwriter and "Colombian rock god," as Entertainment Weekly called him in its roundup of the "10 Coolest Tours" of the summer, he is also an activist with his own foundation, Mi Sangre, which helps victims of land mines. The Atlantic Council gave him its Distinguished Leadership Award last month in a ceremony that included former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Juanes also has been expanding his audience in this country with appearances on TV shows such as "Katie," "Live with Kelly and Michael," "Nightline" and "Dancing With The Stars."

"For us, it's great. It's like a new door that is opening, and also we can reach a different audience than we normally do, so it's cool," he said. "The coolest thing is they invited us to sing in Spanish."

The end result, Juanes said, is a feeling of renewal and rejuvenation as he returns to the recording studio in August.

"Now, after all these years, it's like I am taking the risks again to do different stuff and not thinking too much," he said. "I'm trying to find my own voice and express it."

Doug Pullen may be reached at; 546-6397. Read Pullen My Blog at Follow him on Twitter @dougpullen and Facebook at

Make plans

-- Who: Juanes.

-- When: 8 p.m. Saturday.

-- Where: El"Paso County Coliseum, 4100 E. Paisano.

-- How much: $37, $57 and $77, plus service charges, at the box office and through Ticketmaster, 800-745-3000 and

-- Information: 533-9899.


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