Juanes Explains Why ‘Vida Cotidiana’ Is His Best, Most Soulful Album Yet
More than 30 years into his career, Juanes is making music exactly how he wants to. The Medellín-born pop rocker became a household name in the early 2000s with romantic ballads like “Es Por Ti” and pop-rock earworms like “La Camisa Negra.” On his new album, Vida Cotidiana (Everyday Life), he taps into his expert musical reflexes and chronicles the personal and social issues that permeate daily life, creating songs that are freer than ever.
Vida Cotidiana is Juanes’ tenth studio album, and his first original release since 2019. His two previous original records, Más Futuro Que Pasado and Mis Planes Son Amarte, saw the 27-time Grammy and Latin Grammy winner experiment with genres outside his folk rock and pop parameters. In 2021, he released Origen — an album full of covers in which Juanes reimagined songs like Joe Arroyo’s “Rebelión,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In the Dark,” and Juan Gabriel’s “No Tengo Dinero.” Origen helped pave the way for Juanes to return to his roots on Vida Cotidiana. “I realized I needed to go back to my natural way of making music,” he tells Rolling Stone. “This is who I am.”
While celebrating the album’s release, Juanes caught up with Rolling Stone and shared how he came up with his sharply observed new songs. He also spoke about why he wanted to collaborate with younger Latin artists such as Gale and Mabiland, his work with legends like Juan Luis Guerra, and why, in today’s digital music world, he thinks young people should learn to play an instrument.
Your new album is called Vida Cotidiana. What’s the meaning behind this title?
The album title came because I was working on a lot of songs that talk about real life, real feelings. During the Covid-19 lockdown, I was at home writing all these songs and at the same time, I was trying to experience this weird time, but close to my kids and my wife. It was a lot of different feelings. On one hand, I was very happy about the extra time I had. I am not usually at home for more than a month. So for me, it was amazing.
On the other hand, I was living real life, seeing my kids growing, and sometimes just having discussions with my wife and just living like a normal family. It was an opportunity to just be myself and express all my feelings through the songs. Vida Cotidiana is the title, because these songs are just a lot of different feelings that come in a regular day. I wrote the songs during the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean that these songs are just for that kind of feeling. I think these songs are just for life in general.
The energy is so vibrant. It’s definitely not just for the pandemic with an acoustic guitar or anything like that.
At some point, I just had the feeling that I needed to go back to my essence 100 percent. Rock music has always been, and will always be very important for me, but also all sounds from Colombia and Latin America, like folk music in general. I think this album has these two different worlds in one.
Did some of these inspirations come from working on 2021’s Origen?
Definitely. The opportunity that I had to work on this cover album was very important for me because it helped to remind me where I am coming from and who were the artists of the songs that inspired me in the very beginning.
During Covid, I had this extra time, so I took lessons. For example, I studied electric guitar with Tomo Fujita, who is a Japanese guitar player that is in Boston. I had poetry lessons with Alex Díaz-Pimienta from Cuba. I had music harmony with Guillermo Vadalá, an Argentinian musician. I had singing lessons with Eric Vetro from Los Angeles. All of those elements helped a lot just to improve and increase my capacity to write music.
You also worked with Juan Luis Guerra on “Cecilia,” after you covered his classic “La Bilirrubina” on Origen.
I have always been a big fan of Juan Luis. I love Caribbean music, from reggae to bolero, to bachata to soul. It is just part of me. I really love this sabrosura, even if I love rock music. When I sent the song to him, I was very nervous. I am always nervous when I share music with Juan Luis, because I think he’s huge. He’s amazing. He’s such an incredible musician. I’m very happy that he said, “Yes, I like this song and I’m going to work on it.”
To work with him on this song in particular was very important because I wrote this song for Cecilia, my wife. We had a difficult moment during the pandemic; we were discussing so much and fighting. I thought that at some point it was the end of our relationship. And then I realized that I really love her, that both of us wanted to stay together. This song is an invitation just to dance together in life, and to enjoy being together. I’m proud that I came to this moment when I can share my life and feel vulnerable through my music.
You also worked with Gale on “Ojala.” Are you hoping to collaborate with younger Latin artists more, especially in the recording studio?
I remember the first time I met [Gale], I said, “Oh my God.” She’s such a rockstar. We worked together for that song in a day and it was so easy. Everything just came easy. And from that moment, I was just such a big fan. I think she’s going to conquer the world very soon.
I don’t want to work by myself anymore, for now, at least. I just feel that it’s so amazing to share creativity with somebody else. I don’t want to be working with five or 10 people in a song. I don’t want that, but maybe one or two more people. I think that’s really cool because I can keep the essence and the whole control of the song, but still have the opportunity for somebody from the outside, and especially a young artist that can bring some fresh air to the songs.
What do you think younger artists, like Gale and Bad Bunny, are getting right with this moment in Latin music and its global success?
Latin music in general has so much diversity. When you listen to rock music or country music it is beautiful, but it’s always kind of the same thing. Then when you listen to Latin music and you go through Central America, Mexico, South America, you can find so many different rhythms and flows. When Bad Bunny sings or raps, you can feel the conga drums. That’s something that makes people dance, even if you don’t know how to dance, even if you don’t know the language. The social situations in our countries also make people more creative and see music and art differently. I think that’s something very special from the Latin world.
“Canción Desaparecida” is a powerful political number that addresses one of those social situations. What inspired you to write it?
In the last three years in Colombia, many different stories have been coming to light. Two years ago, I was at home watching YouTube videos and I clicked on a live stream. I started to see ex-paramilitares, ex-policias, ex-guerrilleras talking about the terrible things they did to kill people. In front of them were the mothers and all the parents from many desaparecidos (disappeared people). It was a very strong message. It broke me, to be honest, because I have my three kids, and I was just trying to imagine what the parents were feeling at that moment. I mean, they were looking for their sons for years and years, and when I realized the number of desaparecidos in Colombia it just blew my mind because it’s more than 200,000 people.
I wrote this song because it’s so personal and to have new generations understand and learn about this history and not repeat it. This is not a political song for me in the way that I’m not partisan, I’m just telling the story of something that impacted me and of the reality in my country.
How do you feel your lyricism has evolved on this album?
I will say that this is my best album on all levels, not just the lyrics, but also the harmonies. I find this album more elevated in terms of progression, chords, sounds, performing, like everything. And when I was making this album, I told myself, “I don’t care about tendencias or modas [trends]. I just want to make my music from my heart, from my soul. I want to make it my own way.” I feel liberado. There’s no weight on me. When you make songs now you have to do reggaeton and have an established structure and if you break away from that, it’s very hard. I didn’t follow that path, I let it come from my soul.
What would you say to a younger artist right now with everything you’ve learned and looking back on your successful career?
Please learn how to play an instrument. Honestly, I beg you. It’s very important not to lose the connection and physical contact with real instruments. Music is always changing, but what is not going to change, never, ever, is the music itself. Right now, with artificial intelligence, it’s even more important to learn to play an instrument.
The robot can’t play the guitar like Juanes can.
Maybe they’re going to play 20 times better or a million times better, but without soul. For now.