Casual followers of Latin music should pay closer attention to Carlos Vives. The Colombian singer-songwriter provides a much-needed antidote to genre’s distorted image forced upon the American mainstream by a wave of insipid “crossover” phenoms that have precious little to do with Latin culture.
Vives, it should be noted, is no musical intellectual. In fact, his sound is as commercial as pop music can get. But as this effervescent perf demonstrated, he has his heart — and musical roots — in the right place.
Drawing from one of the most infectious folk styles of his native Colombia — the sweet, pungent, accordion-heavy vallenato –Vives embellishes his rustic, dance-friendly tunes with dashes of guitar-heavy rock ‘n’ roll, rambunctious Caribbean rhythms and infectious pop choruses. Add to the mix the traditional gaita (a long, vertical flute) of Mayte Montero and the results are bubbly and seductive, deep yet joyfully uncomplicated.
Backed by his excellent 10-piece band that includes virtuoso accordion player Egidio Cuadrado, Vives began the show with “La gota fria,” the song that put his vallenato mix on the map in 1995. He also focused heavily on tunes from what arguably stands as his finest effort: 1999’s “El amor de mi tierra,” a nostalgic ode to Vives’ homeland (the singer currently lives in Miami.)
A former actor, Vives peppered the perf with extended, colorful spoken interludes. He dedicated a song to the victims of 9/11, then made a point to thank the U.S. for harboring so many Latino immigrants like himself, giving them a place where their children can grow safely.
It was a particularly refreshing thing to say, considering the number of Hispanic artists who have turned criticizing this country into their favorite pastime. Then again, Vives’ transparency of spirit is one of the keys to the commercial and artistic success of his life-affirming music.