Born Carlos Alberto Vives Restrepo on August 7, 1961, in Santa Marta, Colombia; son of Luis Aurelio (a doctor) and Araceli (a homemaker); married Margarita Rosa de Francisco, 1988; divorced, 1990; married Herlinda Gomez, 1993; children: (with Gomez) Carlos Enrique, Lucia. Education: Graduated from Jorge Tadeo Lozano University, Bogota, Colombia. Addresses: Record company--EMI Latin America, 1688 Meridian Ave., Miami Beach, FL 33139, (305) 672-5252.
Carlos Vives, known for his fusion of pop vocals and traditional Colombian vallenato music, earned a Grammy Award in 2002, received numerous Latin Grammy nominations, and is considered "one of Latin America's most acclaimed [musical] artists," according to Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez in the Los Angeles Times. Valdes-Rodriguez also noted, "Vives embodies the very soul of Latin America."
Vives's songs celebrate vallenato, the traditional music of the Colombian rural people. Vallenato, which originated in the Valle de Upar in northeastern Colombia, has roots in African, European, and native Colombian music; it uses native bamboo flutes, African-inspired drums, and German accordions, as well as other instruments, and has four rhythm styles: son and paseo, which are slower, and puya and merengue, which are more lively. Paseo, despite being slow, is the most popular rhythm. Vives, like other popular vallenato artists, often adds keyboards, full drum sets, and other wind instruments. For many years the music was looked down upon in Colombia because it was associated with poor people and minority groups. However, Vives and other artists have brought it into the mainstream and have also introduced it to audiences around the world.
Vives was born Carlos Alberto Vives Restrepo in Santa Marta, on the northern coast of Colombia. The second of four sons of a doctor and a homemaker, his extended family also includes politicians and other members of Colombia's upper class. Although his family is of Spanish descent, part of the 20 percent of Colombia's white minority, he grew up in a neighborhood made up largely of people of African and Native descent.
Vives told Valdes-Rodriguez that this mix of cultures inspired his music: "I don't discriminate," he said. "I believe we are all children of God, and I can't view a black person as different from me, even though I choose a person of my own color to marry, you understand? I don't believe in differences between people. My music is the living proof of the equality of all people."
Musically talented as a child, Vives was often asked to sing at family parties and also helped his church collect money by singing and playing guitar. When Vives was a teenager his parents divorced, and he moved to Bogota with his mother. By the time he was 18 he was a professional musician, singing with a rock band that performed in night clubs. He attended Jorge Tadeo Lozano University, studying publicity, and took nighttime theater classes at National University.
Vives was performing in a club called Ramon Antigua one night in 1982 when a television producer saw his performance and asked if he would like to audition for a Colombian television show, Tiempo Sin Huella. Vives got the part and starred in a variety of telanovelas--prime-time Latin soap operas--over the next 15 years. He met his first wife, Margarita Rosa de Francisco, while working on the show Gallito Ramirez, and they married in 1988. The marriage did not last, however, and they divorced two years later.
When he was 25, Vives moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and continued acting. He also formed a band, La Provincia. Vives's big break came in 1991, when he played the part of vallenato composer Rafael Escalona in the novela Escalona. Filmed in Santa Marta, Colombia, the series portrayed Escalona's life as well as the culture and history of vallenato music. Vives, who sang vallenato on the soundtrack to the show, was inspired. As Valdes-Rodriguez wrote, "He realized he had thrown out the music most basic to his own spirit and upbringing, simply because the ruling class had looked down on it." Vives decided he would make vallenato his own musical form from then on.
As a result of his success in Escalona, Sony Discos, a Latin music label, offered him a record contract. He produced some modestly selling albums of pop ballads with the company, but when he told the executives at Sony Discos about his plan to focus on vallenato music, they released him from his contract. Although Vives said this move was a sign of racism and snobbery in the music industry, Sony Discos executives said only that their parting from Vives was "amicable," according to Valdes-Rodriguez.
Undaunted, Vives formed his own record company, Gaira, and released a vallenato album, Clasicos de la Provincia, in 1993. Selling over a million copies, the album included modernized versions of classic vallenato songs, most notably "La Gota Fria," which was a smash hit in dance clubs in Latin America and the United States.
Vives soon learned that he could not please everyone, however. Some traditional vallenato musicians in Colombia criticized his music, saying his style was too pop- and rock-inspired to be true vallenato. Vives defended his decision to Valdes-Rodriguez, saying, "all I've done is breathe new life into vallenato. It shouldn't be stuck in a museum."
Vives's quest has been successful. In the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nate Guidry wrote, "This spell-binding, percussive music has struggled for years on the fringes of Colombia's mainstream but is now being transported to urban centers from Medellin to Miami. And no one captures the essence of this folkloric music better than Vives."
Vives's next album, La Tierra de Olvido, released in 1995, went platinum in Latin America and Europe and features a mix of vallenato rhythms and imaginative lyrics. Tengo Fe, some of which was recorded in New York City and which was released in 1997, did not sell as well, perhaps because it features songs about the devastation and sadness of war and the need for faith. In 1997 Vives toured throughout the Americas and Europe and then settled in Miami, partly in order to get away from the high crime rate in Colombia and partly to promote his music to American listeners.
In 1997 Vives signed with EMI Latin America after the label agreed to give the artist complete creative control of his music, and in 1999 the company released El Amor de Mi Tierra. The recording, which is the first vallenato album Vives produced with a major record label, features a variety of Afro-Colombian music styles, retaining the folkloric flavor of the songs; Vives added pop notes only in the vocals, singing about the beauty of Colombia, its people, and its music.
According to Ernesto Lechner in the Los Angeles Times, Vives views El Amor de Mi Tierra as "a musical antidote to the violence and social chaos that currently afflict Colombia." In Americas, Mark Holston wrote that the traditional instruments used, which include the caja vallenata, cajon peruano, and tambora venezolana, "provide a swirl of swinging, earthy rhythmic textures," and noted that the "crowning glory" of the album was Vives's version of the traditional song "La piragua." The album placed second in Billboard's list of top Latin albums, and Vives's song "Fruta Fresca" was the number-one Latin single for 1999. The album was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album category and was also nominated for six Latin Grammy Awards, a number matched only by producer and songwriter Emilio Estefan, Jr. The nominations included Record of the Year for "Fruta Fresca," Album of the Year, and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
In 2002 Vives's Dejame Entrar won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album. Like his other albums, it features traditional instruments augmented with modern ones--including electric guitar, flute, and piano--and emphasizes love songs.
In the Los Angeles Times, Ernesto Lechner wrote, "What's admirable about Vives' work is that he operates within the confines of the Latin pop world, a genre that for the last two decades has been flooded with soulless stars and plastic, saccharine-heavy product." Lechner went on to say, "The key to his success is the sincere love he harbors for his country and its traditions."
by Kelly Winters
Carlos Vives's Career
Worked as professional musician by age 16; acted in a variety of telanovelas (Spanish-language soap operas), increasing fame with starring role in Escalona, 1991; signed with Sony Discos, 1991-93; formed his own recording company, Gaira, 1993; signed with EMI Latin America, 1997.
Carlos Vives's Awards
Grammy Award, Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album for Dejame Entrar, 2002.
- Selected discography
- Carlos Vives Por Fuera y Por Dentro , 1986.
- No Podrás Escapar de Mi , 1987.
- Al Centro de la Ciudad , Sony, 1989.
- Canto a La Vida (soundtrack to Escalona ), 1991.
- Clasicos de la Provincia , Gaira, 1993; reissued, EMI International, 2000.
- 20 de Coleccion , Sony International, 1994.
- La Tierra del Olvido , Gaira, 1995; reissued, EMI International, 2000.
- Tengo Fe , Gaira, 1997; reissued, EMI International, 1997.
- El Amor de Mi Tierra , EMI Latin America, 1999.
- Dejame Entrar , EMI International, 2001.
- Canta Los Clasicos del Vallenato , Universal Latino, 2002.
November 3, 2005: Vives won the Latin Grammy award for best contemporary tropical album for El Rock De Mi Pueblo. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com/2005/SHOWBIZ/Music/11/04/latin.grammys.list.ap/index.html, November 10, 2005.
- Americas, January 2000, p. 56.
- Daily News (Los Angeles), December 18, 2001, p. L2.
- Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, September 12, 2000, p. K7594.
- Los Angeles Times, July 27, 1998, p. 6; August 7, 2000, p. F3; September 12, 2000, p. T11.
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 7, 2002.