For the past 30 years, Latin pop has been inundated by embarrassingly bad macho crooners, artless divas with nothing to say, and the kind of pasteurized production values that evoke the worst habits of the American mainstream. Which makes you think that if a sensitive singer decided to record a bunch of melodious tunes with heartfelt lyrics, the world would be his for the taking. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Juanes.
It is no coincidence that the former heavy metal guitarist has become one of Latin music’s best selling artists in only eight years and four albums. During the second of four perfs at the Nokia Theatre, Juanes delivered an expertly calibrated set that underscored his trademark qualities: an enviable simplicity of purpose, choruses praising the life-changing power of love, crunchy guitar riffs, and just a hint of Latin folk.
Juanes hails from Colombia, the musically richest country in all of Latin America (forget about Cuba, hermano.) Not surprisingly, huge hits such as “La Camisa Negra” and “A Dios Le Pido” bring to mind the bouncy beat of Colombian cumbia and the bittersweet accordion lines of traditional vallenato. “La Paga,” on the other hand, finds inspiration in reggae for its simmering groove.
Highlights of the evening included covers of two songs popularized by Joe Arroyo– Colombia’s premier salsa artist. Played during a rollicking encore, “Rebelión” maintained the reckless Afro-Caribbean piano line of the original. “La Noche,” on the other hand, has been transformed by Juanes into an anthem with equal ties to Caribbean soca and retro Latin pop– an ideal summer song, with its sweet lyrics about remembered kisses.
The singer, who enjoys a justly deserved reputation as one of the nicest guys in the Latin music biz, injected a touch of political activism to the show with “Minas Piedras,” a powerful song about the landmines that continue punishing the inhabitants of war-ridden Colombia.
Juanes’ crowd pleasing attitude– serenading the ladies on the front row, plus the occasional double-entendre skit– was disarmingly honest. Although his songs could never qualify as bland, you are still left with the impression that the man would benefit from further artistic challenges. Now that he is 35, it may be time for Juanes to push his considerable talent into edgier musical territory.