Carlos Vives rocks house with a Colombian flair

Special to The Times

Carlos Vives began his raucous, two-hour performance Sunday at the Gibson Amphitheatre with the title track of his latest album, “El Rock de Mi Pueblo” (“The Rock of My People”). The song is the ultimate expression of the musical manifesto that the former soap opera star has been working on for the last 12 years.

The way Vives sees it, the devilishly rhythmic cumbia and the accordion-heavy vallenato of his native Colombia are the South American equivalent of rock ‘n’ roll. Both genres are feverish and addictive, able to move the feet and stir the soul. And as the singer proved time and again Sunday, the fusion of the two styles results in one of Latin music’s most visceral pleasures.

Perhaps because he has finally been able to verbalize what his music is all about, Vives’ older material sounded fresh and revitalized. The accordion textures were grungier and the guitar solos more searing on songs from Vives’ magnum opus, 1999’s “El Amor de Mi Tierra.”


The material from the new album showcased the singer’s ability to experiment with new formats without compromising his original recipe. There were hints of rapping on “La Maravilla,” and the hit “Como Tu” was initially done in a wonderfully chilled-out house version.

At a time when the chasm between quality Latin music and its more commercial exponents is widening, Vives continues to deliver the ideal balance between crowd-pleasing anthems and sophisticated musicianship.

The singer’s youthful charisma and the fiery accordion riffs of Egidio Cuadrado were focal points of his show. But the most beguiling moments belonged to Mayte Montero’s work on the gaita, a South American flute. A combination of Andean mystique with cumbia recklessness, her solos distilled the pungent essence of Vives’ vallenato-rock.