In his first U.S. interview in more than a year, Colombian pop-rock star Juanes shared his creative process and commitment to social activism during the keynote Q&A today (April 25) at the Billboard Latin Music Conference in Miami.

At a packed event attended by international media, industry professionals and music students, the 12-time Latin Grammy winner talked about working on "La Vida Es Un Ratico," his new album on Universal, slated for release around October. Its title, Juanes explained to the audience and Billboard Executive Director of Latin Content & Programming Leila Cobo, was inspired by the death of a relative and his mother's observation that "life is a moment."

The singer-songwriter of international hits holed up in the mountains of his hometown Medellin to finish the album, which is strongly informed by traditional Colombian rhythms such as vallenato.

As a child, when his family would go to his father's vacation home, "the bedroom I stayed in was next door to a cantina," said Juanes, recalling the sounds that would flow in all night.

Unlike other Latin stars who have gained international fanbases, Juanes hasn't changed his sound or recorded in English, except for a duet with Tony Bennett on the crooner's last album.

"I couldn't say no to Tony Bennett," said Juanes with a laugh. But even in Spanish, finding the right words for a song is "a difficult, tormenting process" that can take weeks, he said. And "when I sing [in English], I think about pronunciation and the magic suffers."

Juanes says he often gains inspiration from a single word or phrase that he can't get out of his head: from the newspaper; from books of poetry. "I like reading, and it helps your memory, and it nourishes that [songwriting] part. "'Camisa Negra' is a mix of what I am: rock and Colombian rhythms," he explained of his worldwide hit. "I only had the word 'black.' When people ask me to explain 'Camisa Negra' in English, it's impossible. I can't even explain it in Spanish."

What he can explain is his commitment to eradicating land mines in Colombia, and funding early childhood education programs in 42 municipalities through his Mi Sangre Foundation so that children "make a different decision, so they don't pick up arms to solve conflicts."

His successful collaborations with Oscar-winning producer Gustavo Santaolalla began with an understanding about the importance of addressing serious subjects in music.

"He was one of the few people who accepted my music as it was at the time. People said, 'Your lyrics are too heavy, too non-commercial. It won't sell, you're talking about land mines.'"

"Fijate Bien," a song with that very same subject, turned out to be Juanes' breakout hit.

"Music is a lot more than singing about love. It's about what I pursue for my neighborhood, my country. But my songs always have a positive, optimistic spirit."