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Carlos Vives: “Man is a sociable creature that unites to live in community and fulfill their wishes”

Well maybe I started to feel it later when I went to Colombia and I started to see my region from afar. I started to live in other places and when I realized that everything I left behind was valuable and that maybe I would return, I would find another path in my music something […]

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Well maybe I started to feel it later when I went to Colombia and I started to see my region from afar. I started to live in other places and when I realized that everything I left behind was valuable and that maybe I would return, I would find another path in my music something that would be more like my identity, with my way of life, with my way of feeling and I started to remember and understand the value of the many people that had nurtured me, remember everything that they had taught me, culture music, and literature. I think that experience of remembering to look from afar at my neighborhood, my city, my people, made me see things in another way and understand that what I had there was a grand treasure and a reason to be for my artistic job.


As a part of our series about music stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Carlos Vives.

With more than 20 million albums sold worldwide, Carlos Vives represents Colombia’s most emblematic artist of all time. As an ambassador of Colombian and Latin American culture and sounds, he was the first Colombian to ever win a Grammy award, and to date has taken two Grammy® and 16 Latin Grammy®. The album “Vives” surpassed 2 billion streams and includes the worldwide anthems “La Bicicleta” (Shakira) and “Robarte un beso” (Yatra), both videos generating a combined 2.5 billion views. In 2019 “Si me das tu amor” alongside (Wisin) peaked №1 on Billboard’s “Latin Rhythm Airplay” and charted for 20 consecutive weeks and received a nomination for “Best Tropical song” at Premio Lo Nuestro 2020.

As he continued his philanthropic work in support of Tras La Perla, he became the first artist to break attendance records at Colombia’s Movistar arena for selling out four. In May 2020, he released his fourteenth studio album, Cumbiana, which included Ruben Blades, Ziggy Marley, Alejandro Sanz, Jessie Reyez, among others. The first single “No Te Vayas” made it to the Top 10 on Billboard’s Tropical Airplay chart. Vives received six nominations for the Latin GRAMMY® Awards and the album became a five-time nominated album, including the nomination for “Album of the Year.” Recently, Vives received the Hall of Fame award at the 2020 Billboard Latin Music Awards for his artistic excellence and incredible influence. In October, he shared an intimate performance on the internationally recognized NPR Tiny Desk Home Concert video series and released his documentary, El Mundo Perdido de Cumbiana, on Amazon Prime Video, where he has allowed his audience to discover the origin of cumbia.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

I was born in a small city in the Colombian caribbean named Santa Marta, to a middle-class family and four brothers, my father, a doctor and a housewife mother. We grew up with the fundamentals, a good education, good nutrition, and plenty of care, but we also had nothing to spare. I had a very peaceful, very loving, very nice childhood. When I was 12 years old I went to live in the capital Bogota, a very different culture almost like from another country, which made me understand a little of all the diversity that Colombians represent as Colombians. From a very young age I was drawn into music, theater, not just everything that came in from the radio and the television, from the massive media outlets, but also from the expressions of local culture. Santa Marta was a festive city so all the imagination that formed that festive culture which we inherited from Cadiz and Canary Islands, Spain, formed a part of our upbringing so I already had that influence, and also the “minstrelsy”, “the minstrels’’ from the provinces that arrived at Santa Marta also drew my attention. This social environment that generated around these storytellers was very important for my family.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Despite music already being in my life during my school years, when I was very young I finished school and pursued my college studies in medicine. I started my pre-medical studies, and one day by accident I arrived at the National School of Drama (E.N.A.D.) and discovered that I wanted to do theater. I called my dad and I told him, “ I think that medicine isn’t for me… I’m at the School of Drama/theater and I feel good here.” He answered well to me, “Yes, I know. I knew that you were going to be an artist, you were not going to be a doctor.”

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?

The first time I went to Bilbao in the Basque Country of Spain, my team and I arrived for a connection. We were going on a Tour around different places in Spain and the city received us cloudy, dark, rainy weather, with a very sad mood. It rained insistently and I thought that we wouldn’t be able to hold our concert. The music that we brought was very popular, very happy, and it seemed like the people were not in the right mindset for the party, for the rumba that our music always brought along. And so I arrived at the concert with very little hope that it would be a massive concert. We stayed practicing and preparing, the time for the performance arrived, and when we appeared on stage the audience was resounding! The people had this tremendous energy, they were already singing and jumping, we hadn’t even started and they were already humming our songs, and well it was a surprise for all of us to see all this happiness and the amount of people that came to our concert and that taught me that one can’t put in doubt the joy that people treasure in their hearts even in the darkest days and apparently the saddest places.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

Success is something very personal and it has to do with being happy. I think what I could share with a young man in regards to this matter is to tell him that it is very important to cultivate yourself as a person, find that vocation that will take you to be serviceable to our society and our planet, to find that place. We all come with an end and a purpose. Finding the space within each of us has to do with what we call success.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

There is an old and possibly the most famous phrase that says: “Do good and don’t look at who”. A very simple phrase but it encapsulates something very important in our relationships with people, with the environment, with ourselves, with nature, with God, and I learned this from a young age. I heard this as a child served me throughout all my journey in life.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Man is a sociable creature that unites to live in community and fulfill their wishes. It’s nature, we’re always going to find someone in life that will make it less difficult, that will help us, that will care for us, that will become our soulmate. I believe that we learn from everyone and for that I think that we need to be grateful with life. Of course the people that one is born with are there for them: father, mother, close family members, those who worry about you, loyal friends, good professors, the people that you find in life that propels you, supports you. In my case, I met my wife Claudia Elena in a difficult time in my life. She came to change my own visage and of my career, with warmth, with love, and with plenty of discipline. Claudia Elena and a grand interdisciplinary team have taken my career and our company to important places in the industry.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

As artists, people have always taken us into account to support and work for a number of diverse causes (which in general are not from the artist) hahahaha it was a joke, but really I think that this humane feeling forms a part of being an artist. It was music that taught me to look in depth at my territory, the land where I was born and where my music was born, the cultural heritage, the oral traditions, and the ones that have nourished me to work in the industry, my music, and understand that everything is directly related to the people and a very sophisticated and diverse ecosystem. Knowing about social issues and violence motivates us to add ourselves to our society and to become part of the solution. TRAS LA PERLA, our social initiative, located Santa Marta, it’s an organization based on identity, on three levels: neighborhood, city, and region, with plans to strengthen our social structure to improve our people’s quality of life.

Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?

Well maybe I started to feel it later when I went to Colombia and I started to see my region from afar. I started to live in other places and when I realized that everything I left behind was valuable and that maybe I would return, I would find another path in my music something that would be more like my identity, with my way of life, with my way of feeling and I started to remember and understand the value of the many people that had nurtured me, remember everything that they had taught me, culture music, and literature. I think that experience of remembering to look from afar at my neighborhood, my city, my people, made me see things in another way and understand that what I had there was a grand treasure and a reason to be for my artistic job.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

I think that it was two important moments, the arrival of a more professional team, with more awareness over our territory, and the upsurge of the social and ecological situation in many of these places. But especially the situation of abandonment in these iconic places in our city, like the Pescaito neighborhood, that reflected the situation in the larger part of the region.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I think we have managed to impact on various fronts, but perhaps the Pescaito neighborhood is the neighborhood that can start telling stories about how with the start of our initiative they began to give real transformations within the community. The work in the Pescaito neighborhood started with the strengthening of the leadership among its inhabitants, the work that is done in conjunction with the community that part of the job, which the architect Simón Hosie calls the “planos vivos”, is the deep understanding of the community, in society, to later find solutions. It’s what we have been working on for the neighborhood during these past years, the strengthening of the social thread, in giving back to the community its identity and value its importance in culture and sports that are the principal topics that we cover in the neighborhood and from there dream on its architectural transformation. We have already realized the creation of the childrens’ playroom, we have brought to the community the AEIOTU system, for the first education in infancy and for care in those first years. We have started transforming the dancehouse which attacks an important front which is the culture taking advantage of the talent and vocation that the neighborhood has within in its culture as a crib for festivities, and we are starting now the project for the high performance center for the new generations of athletes to bring to the neighborhood something that has been missing for a very long time.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

As simple as it might sound it’s uniting which has not been missing for us. Fundamentally, everyone’s interactions are what has been missing to create transformations. TRAS LA PERLA initiative, which is born within the citizen, is to look among the private and public for an encounter between the different politics, in all kinds of differences that defines us as a society. The slogan for TRAS LA PERLA is “United for Santa Marta”. It might sounds simple but it has not been simple in our history.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.

Good thing that no one told me anything because I’m sure that it would’ve been to demotivate me, or perhaps they’ve already told me but one really doesn’t lose the hope that things could be different. So whichever of those would still not have avoided that would get me to start working on what I love.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would unite two movements, one that looks to rescue our identity and the other that looks to restore our ecosystem, I think that would bring good to everyone.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

They’re all important, very important because they have the possibility to achieve and make fundamental changes, so I need all of them because additionally I believe one of the most important matters we have today and we can talk about is transformative philanthropy. They’re the new methods in which in private they can add themselves into public politics to achieve the social changes that all of society wants. And so from private we can form a part of it, not from that unproductive welfare that never solved anything in the long or medium term, but instead within new methods of productive capital from which we can add ourselves to social changes. Everyone is welcomed, we need everyone in my causes whether it be about culture, sports, music or traditions. I encourage you to find me in traslaperla.org

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!


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