Carlos Vives’ new album Cumbiana, a search for the indigenous roots of Colombian music, sees him at his finest. It is exuberant, soulful, beautiful and important without ever sounding overbearing, a very difficult balance to achieve.
Featuring duets with Jessie Reyez, Ruben Blades and Alejandro Sanz, Cumbiana — out Friday (May 22) — treads that line between what’s commercial and what is artistic, with a slightly different premise (for Vives, at least).
“I discovered a lost world. That’s the truth,” Vives simply states, speaking from his home in Bogota, where he’s been in lockdown for the past two months.
“We’ve always spoken about our African heritage in music,” he adds. “We’ve always thought that the most uplifting elements of our music came from Africa or from European rhythms like polka. But it turns out it comes from Andean, or indigenous music. This album highlights the joy of the fusion of African, European and indigenous music.”
Marrying Colombia’s past with the future, Cumbiana has already delivered a chart hit with “No Te Vayas.” Edgier still is current single “For Sale,” a mix of traditional beats with reggaeton, a touch of rap and Sanz’s flamenco strains. Of course, Vives wrote the rule book for Colombian fusion.
His 1994 album, La Tierra Del Olvido, where he marries Colombia’s most traditional folk beats — vallenato, cumbia, porro — with rock guitars and drums and pop sensibility, is the original blueprint of the sound that would later define the work of acts like Juanes, Fonseca and even Shakira at times.
But Cumbiana expands its realm. So much so that this is the first of a three-album project.
From the making of “Hechizera” with longtime fan Jessie Reyez, to filming “For Sale” with Alejandro Sanz literally hours before Colombia went into lockdown, here are the stories behind four Cumbiana tracks, in Vives’ own words.
“Hechicera” feat. Jessie Reyez
Jessie Reyez sings in English, but she’s from Cali. She represents the new generation. When I started looking for a female voice, my daughters Lucy and Elena suggested Jessie. They were already following her and she came from a Colombian family.
This is a song about a very powerful woman. In Colombia they teach us about Bachué, the goddess who emerges from the water, and I wanted to find a woman who personified her. I wanted Jessie to sing in English, but she wanted to sing in Spanish as a question of pride.
“For Sale” feat. Alejandro Sanz
When La Provincia’s music first hit in Spain, Alejandro was just starting and we met on several occasions. We always spoke about the connection between Spain and Colombia, and we spoke about recording together.
It’s called “For Sale” because the original was “Se Vende,” and Alejandro already has a song with that title. Alejandro was touring Latin America and had a concert in Bogota on Saturday, so we made plans to film the video the Thursday prior. We were literally in the middle of the shoot when they told us the concert was canceled and everything was shutting down. We wrapped up and every went running home.
“Canción Para Ruben” Feat. Ruben Blades
As with Alejandro, Ruben and I always spoke about recording together, because Panamenian culture is so similar to us. Even though his thing is salsa, we were joined by understanding what I’d done with our music. When I began working in Cumbiana, I specifically wrote this song for him. He said, “I’ll do yours if you record one for me called ‘No Estás Solo’ You’re Not Alone].
When I went to the studio to record, eight months before the pandemic, he played me that song, which is specifically for people who are sick. My dad was a doctor and when I was 10, 11 years old, he would have me go visit his post-op patients and serenade them with my guitar. When Ruben asked me to record his song, I immediately thought of my father.
“Los Consejos del Difunto (Advise From Those Who Passed)”
The base of this song is the rhythm of the drum from our amphibian cultures. It’s a very colloquial song where I share what life has taught me. The rhythm is that of the oars sinking into the Magdalena River, but built for modern times.