Pop & Hiss

The L.A. Times music blog

« Previous Post | Pop & Hiss Home | Next Post »

Colombian music star Fonseca expresses his 'Gratitud' at the Grammy Museum

June 12, 2009 |  2:45 pm

Juan Fernando Fonseca is pop powerhouse in his native Colombia. He leads a modern Latin band outfitted with electric guitars and a synthesizer. And his songs, about love, are pop confections with catchy hooks and infectious melodies — sometimes dipped in jazz and R&B. He became a pop phenomenon in his home country with his self-titled debut album in 2002. By 2006, he won a Latin Grammy for his hit song “Te Mando Flores” off his second album, “Corazon.”

Today, he wraps up a 12-city U.S. tour — which sold out nine dates — to promote his latest album, “Gratitud.”

And earlier this week, he performed at the Grammy Museum in front of roughly 200 people. The music seduced many out of their seats to dance, demonstrating why Fonseca is the first Latin artist to perform at the museum.

The 30-year-old singer-songwriter, known by his surname Fonseca, follows the trail blazed by the international success of his countryman Carlos Vives, who merged rock guitar and drums with vallenato, the fast-paced, pump-push style on the button accordion that surfaced in Colombia’s Caribbean north coast.

“There is nothing like vallenato,” Fonseca said in an interview prior to his museum performance. “It moves you. It goes through your body and makes you feel. That’s what makes music so great. When you can feel it and connect with it.”

Fonseca's profound connection with music is what led him to participate in the Canta Conmigo (Sing With Me) program last year. The musical project, co-organized by the Presidential Council for Reintegration, aims to rehabilitate former paramilitaries and guerrillas and help them reintegrate into Colombian society. Auditions were held in more than 30 cities, seeking former rebels who have a musical background. Twelve were selected to be trained as professional musicians, leading to making an album and performing a concert in April. It’s a project that Fonseca said he hoped to expand to include Colombian army soldiers.

"It was beautiful," he said. "Being a musician in Colombia, when they invite you to get involved with these kinds of projects, most of the time you just talk about it. It’s just your presence and nothing else. With this one, I was able to really get into it. I was their teacher. I played them Michael Jackson, Santana, Bob Marley … and it was incredible to be part of the reconciliation. Everybody needs to forgive because we have so many bad memories. And music is the ultimate unifier."

It’s what brought together the crowd on Tuesday night, when he performed seven songs — including "Te Mando Flores," "Gratitud" and "Arroyito."

And as Fonseca ended his set, the fans chanted "Otro! Otro!" (Another! Another!). He obliged, performing a classic vallenato, "El Cantor de Fonseca."

On Saturday he flies to New York, where he’ll spend five days writing songs for his upcoming album, slated for release next year.

"I don’t think much of the sound or effects…. I just let it happen," he said of the writing process. "It’s like having a diary, but singing it."

And each fan wants a copy.

-- Yvonne Villarreal

Photo credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times