Award acceptance speeches are usually the kind of thing one tolerates politely.
But Carlos Vives took things to a whole new level during the BMI Latin Music Awards March 11 when he got up to perform after accepting the BMI President’s award. Playing with a five-piece, pared-down version of his big tropical band, Vives took the crowd at the Bellagio ballroom in Las Vegas through a veritable tour of Colombian folklore and vallenato, the troubadour-based, accordion-laced traditional music of Colombia that he popularized throughout the world by blending in pop and rock.
A superstar who usually performs in arenas, Vives was personal and impassioned and hilariously clever, quoting lyrics and music in what turned out to be the most amusing class in recent memory.
"I was always a fan of composers," he said. "I remember that as a child, the real composers would stop by mi house and play, and that’s how I got to know them. People who were very humble, who had no money, some who never stood in front of a microphone. People like Alejo Durán. I don't know if he knew how to read, but he wrote these beautiful things. Things like: "Women have an aroma when they’re new, and Spring an aroma when it blooms."
Making a parallel between the Mississippi river and the blues and Colombia’s Magadalena river and its vallenato, Vives’ performance was a mix of lore and charm and great music.
"Please don’t translate this song to the American girls; they’ll deport me," he said before launching into an old vallenato tune about a philandering husband: "If I don’t come home tonight, I’ll come home early tomorrow. I just want you to sleep, so you can look rested."
Those venerable composers, said Vives, never won BMI awards. "How could I ever imagine that I would?" he asked.
The highlight of the evening was when Vives called to the stage his wife Claudia Elena, the inspiration behind his comeback and his first hit single in eight years, "Volví a nacer" (I was born again).
"Come here," he said cajolingly, walking up to her table. "There are no vedettes here, no stars. It’s only us composers. How can I not write beautiful songs?" he asked proudly, gesturing to the stately Claudia Elena, a former beauty queen who also has a degree in chemical engineering.
"I also want to thank Sony, for taking me out of my house, and my manager, Walter [Kolm]," he said, alluding to the nearly a decade in which he remained unsigned and didn’t release solo albums.
Vives then dropped to one knee and began singing "Volví a nacer" for his wife, before getting back on his feet and dancing with her to the tune of the accordion.
Earlier in the evening, Vives told Billboard he will release a new studio album in May. A first single, "El mar de sus ojos," debuts at No. 1 this week on Billboard's Latin Airplay chart. Tracks will include a duet with Marc Anthony that Vives describes as "very Colombian, tropical/pop."