Sunday, September 25, 2011

Music Smoothie

The musical tradition of a people and place serves as a sort of identity for many. They hear it and can say, there, that's me, that's my family. Nowhere is this most evident than in populations straddling cultures. There's no shortage of that in America, even today. First, second, even third generation immigrants to the USA bring with them or have grown up saturated in a musical tradition that identifies their heritage. And as they come into this new place, they have to decide what they pass on to their children, what they will embrace and adopt of their new home. And "home" is a loaded word. Do I belong here, or is my real home back there? And does embracing this new place make me a traitor? Should I worry about losing my roots?
This is illustraded quite clearly in the music of American Latinos. Mambo. Salsa. Tango. Hip Hop. Rock. It's all there and hybrids erupt regularly. The fusion of styles is a wonderful indication of how two cultures have been reconciled by these people. How they can at once embrace their new home while celebrating their heritage. Latin hip-hop, combining familiar Carribean beats with a hip-hop language makes one wonder why the two weren't put together before. Latin Rock is a relatively new phenomenon on the scene that is coming to prominance with the advent of Latin Rock Stars in America and elsewhere. It's also served as inspiration for the new musical In the Heights, which incorperates all these rich and complex musical styles into a story that explores this very topic (it was also winner of 4 Tony Awards, including best musical of 2008).
Latin rock star "Juanes" is just one musician that has married LAtin and American Rock traditions and is bringing them into the spotlight. Influenced by the music of Metalica, Iron Maiden, and Led Zepplin, Juan Estiban Aritizabal received his first electric guitar at the age of 13 and at 15, began playing in a heavy metal. Signed to a record label and releasing 4 albums over ten years, the group finally broke up. Juan, changing his name to Juanes, moved to Los Angeles and began exploring a unique and personal music style that would blend his heritage with the rock music he loved. He composed tunes that blended rock/pop with Colombian folk rhythms. His lyrics spaned a wide variety of topics, but he resoled to only sing in Spanish.
He was an instant hit in Columbia, and after several years, had established himself as a significant player on the international pop music scene. Called by some "the most successful and influential Latin music ambassador ever," the Los Angeles Times named Juanes "the single most important figure of the past decade in Latin pop music."

"I sing in Spanish, but I play guitar in English," says Juanes. And it's helped him to reconcile the tough subjects of music, love, family and country.

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