Not many pop idols can claim to have performed before the European Parliament, but that is exactly what Colombia crooner Juanes did April 19 when he had buttoned-up politicos swaying, clapping and singing to his music — the first concert in the Euro body’s august main chamber.
He certainly had reason to rejoice. The European Union Commission had just given him a euro 2.5 million ($3.2 million) donation toward his pet cause, the land-mine victims of Colombia. Juanes, whose full name is Juan Esteban Aristizabal, also played at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in December and the World Cup selection ceremony this summer. Just last year, he was named “One of the 100 Most Influential People in the World” by Time magazine.
Latin America’s leading social activist chooses to go by just one name, not unlike his global activist Brit counterparts Bono and Sting. The Latin superstar, whose popularity outside his home country might only be eclipsed by fellow Colombian Shakira, has just concluded a punishing 19-month, 170 concert worldwide tour to promote his latest hit album, “Mi sangre” (My Blood).
He delivers his romantic ballads and politically charged protest songs with the same infectious energy. Now 33, he has nabbed a dozen Latin Grammys. “Juanes is absolutely honest and genuine with what he does,” says Argentine Oscar-winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla, who has produced Juanes’ music. “He has a terrific taste for production and arranging, and he happens to be incredibly hard working.
“He covers a lot of things in his music — rock plus pop flavors and elements of Colombian music — and he connects with lots of people even if they don’t understand the words. I go to Turkey (or) Greece, and his music is playing.”
Juanes has also defied the old adage that Hispanic artists need to sing in English to strike it big in the U.S. “Mi sangre” has sold close to a million copies in the U.S. and twice that worldwide.