Colombian singer Carlos Vives can create fluttering hearts amidst crowds of normally well-behaved señoritas and señoras simply by smiling in their direction. Some of this undoubtedly has to do with his stint on a Colombian television show, where he played the part of a romantic vallenato musician. Unlike most musically suspect video heroes, however, Vives actually has managed to carry his TV role into the concert arena with well-deserved success.
Vives' albums are more than well-crafted hack jobs. He has taken Columbia's vallenato music from its folk roots and has mapped out its future. Through a series of groundbreaking albums (including 1992's "Escalona un Canto a la Vida," 1993's "Clasicos de la Provincia" and 1994's "La Tierra del Olvido"), Vives has paid homage to the musicians who created the vallenato style while progressively adding new tunes and widening its possibilities.
The resulting music that Vives and his band now play is a folk/pop hybrid called techno-vallenato, with non-folk touches such as electric guitars and rock riffs bouncing in the mix next to bamboo flutes, bongos and accordions. Vallenato's rhythmically flexible basslines pop and weave around the percussion, setting up a pulsing tapestry behind the accordion. This fluid rhythm lets Vives blend modern electronics with more traditional music.
His newest album, "Tengo Fe," meshes accordions, Andean flute sounds, grand pianos and flaming guitars into a highly individual sound. While accordions dominate the instrumental arrangements and provide the most audible tie to traditional vallenato, other parts of the music take steps that tie Vives ever closer to the international rock community.
Unlike on his earlier albums, Vives is the primary composer on "Tango Fe." With the exception of "Caballito," an arrangement of an old Columbian children's tune, everything on the album comes either from Vives' pen or via collaboration with his percussionists. The album is a turning point as Vives becomes more than an interpreter of other's material and creates memorable songs for himself and (potentially) other musicians.