8th January, 2000

A new decade, a new century, a new millennium -- and a new voice. That we haven't met Carlos Vives before on this travelogue is due more to chance than to the number ones closely tracking the development of new sounds in Latin Pop; he's a contemporary of Luis Miguel or Ricky Martin who had had a career as a smoldering telenovela presence in the 80s, and his first few records of po-faced ballads didn't have much of a reception. But when he played a vallenato composer in 1991, and started making pop-vallenato music in his own right in 1993, he tapped a deep well of exciting dance music that was largely new to the broader, non-Colombian music audience, and became a star.

Vallenato is a tradition Colombian dance music, originating on the country's western Caribbean coast (as opposed to cumbia, which came from the central Caribbean coast), and its traditional instruments are a hand drum, the scraping guaracha instrument that also makes cumbia's signature sound, and accordion. Vives added a rock band and (on "Fruta Fresca") Andean pipe, and his version of vallenato (to the disgust of traditionalists) is notably more uptempo and Caribbean than the traditional music.

"Fruta Fresca" is a love song, its sentiments as breezy and universalist as its sound, and like practically everything else good in Latin Pop at the turn of the century, it was produced by Emilio Estefan. Which may be how Vives finally ended up at #1 after nearly a decade of stardom. It's the Estefans' world, we're just living in it for now.

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