Juanes - Biography of Colombia's Musical Ambassador Juanes

Juanes. Courtesy J. Emilio Flores /Getty Images

Born: Juan Esteban Aristizabal on Aug. 7, 1972 in Medellin, Colombia

Trivia: Juanes is a name derived from combining 'Juan' and 'Esteban'

Early Days:

The youngest of six children, Juanes was born in Medellin, Colombia. His father ran a supermarket/bodega and had a passion for tango; he taught his four sons to play the guitar (Juanes was 7 years old). A loner by nature, Juanes had few friends and spent a lot of time just playing music.

He often accompanied his older brother as they played at various festivities in the neighborhood. At the age of 13, he got his first electric guitar and fell in love with rock, influenced by the music of groups such as Metallica, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.

Ekhymosis and Heavy Metal:

At 15, Juanes joined like-minded friends to form the group Ekhymosis ('bruise'). The band spent much of their 10+ years together playing heavy metal; in 1993 Ekhymosis was signed by Codiscos and the band released its first album, Nino Gigante. They acquired a sizable following in Colombia and released four more albums.

In 1998, the band broke up to follow their individual musical visions while still remaining friends. Juanes decided to move to Los Angeles to make a new start and it was then he concatenated his name to 'Juanes.'

Juanes Teams with Gustavo Santaolalla:

Juanes not only changed cities, he changed his music.

Realizing that it was time to embrace his heritage, he spent his early L.A. days composing tunes that blended rock/pop with Colombian folk rhythms, while writing lyrics that ranged from romance and everyday concerns to the serious social and political problems in Colombia.

His unique style didn't meet with much success until it was heard by Gustavo Santaolalla, himself an award-wining musician whose music also fused contemporary and folk elements.

Santaolalla (Surco) took on production of the debut album.

Juanes Latin Grammy Suprise:

That album, Fijate Bien (Watch Your Step), did well in Colombia, but didn't really get much airtime elsewhere. So it came as a big surprise when Fijate Bien received seven Latin Grammy nominations in 2001. Juanes performed at that awards program and walked off with three awards (Best Rock Album, Song and New Artist), bringing him renewed interest in the album and international recognition.

Un Dia Normal:

The night of his first big Latin Grammy win, Oct. 30, 2001, Juanes did not spend the evening celebrating in traditional style. Instead, he went to visit Santaolalla at his Surco studios in Los Angeles. With him he brought a demo tape of 40 songs, the best of which eventually became the core of his next album.

That album was Un Dia Normal and it went on to become probably the most successful Latin music album ever released. It sold millions of copies worldwide and spent 92 weeks on Billboard's Top Latin Albums. The first single from the album, "A Dios le Pido" (I Ask God), became an anthem for world peace.

Mi Sangre:

It was difficult to believe that Juanes could match the success of Un Dia Normal, but he did with 2004's Mi Sangre, an album that not only swept the charts, but won just about every award available for the next 18 months.

When Juanes finished up a 200-date tour promoting Mi Sangre, he found himself once again at the top of the Latin charts; this time he had established himself as as a major player in the international pop market -- all the while maintaining his stance to sing only in Spanish.

La Vida Es...Un Ratico:

Never really comfortable with public adulation, Juanes headed back to Colombia and to his mountain retreat above Medellin which he shares with his wife, Colombian model Karen Martinez and their daughters, Paloma and Luna. He settled in to write more music, but fatigue, notoriety and the hardships of fame took their toll; in May 2007, the tabloids were full of marital strife and the subsequent separation between Juanes and Martinez. The two subsequently got back together and Juanes has been quoted as saying that he found salvation in his music during that trying time.

In 2007, La Vida Es..Un Ratico was released. The material in the album is a reflection of both his private turmoil and that of Colombia's. In listening to the album, it is clear that the artist had come to terms with what is important in his life -- music, love, family and country.

In 2005, Juanes formed the Fondacion Mi Sangre in order to help the numerous victims of Colombia's anti-personnel landmines; he also organized the hugely successful Colombia Sin Minas Benefit Concert.

Perhaps 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."

Partial Juanes Discography