"Sometimes success or fame is dangerous," Juanes told a small group at the Austin Convention Center, during an interview with rock critic Dave Marsh, in which he acknowledged he was at a crossroads in the career that has taken the 39-year-old from Medellin's rock scene to huge success as a pop rock artist, one of the best known singers in Spanish of all time. In 2009, he was named Billboard's Latin Music Artist of the decade.
"It's easy to get lost," Juanes said in English during the Q&A. "I was not expecting all these things that happened to me, it was a beautiful journey, but at the end I was like 'what was I doing here?'. I just want to be free and do songs that don't have any formula, I want to have no fear and just go… Sometimes you're afraid, but everyday I'm less afraid, I'm like f*ck it I don't care. I'm trying to remember who I was, all those dreams and all those ideas I had when I started in music. Definitely this is a transitional moment in my career."
During the conversation with Marsh, who did not seem all that well acquainted with Juanes' songs or his place in the pantheon of Latin music, Juanes played an acoustic version of his first hit and enduring signature, "A Dios Le Pido." He also performed "La Señal", the first single off of his upcoming MTV Unplugged album, to be released in May.
He expressed his delight at being at SXSW, where he anonymously crawled the clubs, rode in a pedicab, and was "just another musician."
An artist who, unlike other Latin pop stars, has always maintained an aversion to singing in English, Juanes made his public English-language performance debut at SXSW on Thursday, when he played "This Land is your Land" during a Woody Guthrie Tribute before Bruce Springsteen's keynote speech.
"Now I'm a lot more clear about what I really want to do with that issue [of singing in English]," Juanes said Friday. "I don't want to do a crossover album in the way my friends have done. I really respect Shakira and Enrique [Iglesias], but if I do it someday I will do it differently, with rock music in my own way. I probably have to learn more English and think more in English to write in English."
Juanes had to ask the audience for help in translating a Spanish phrase into English for Marsh more than once during the interview, but at his concert Friday night there was no language barrier. After the audience for an earlier set by The Magnetic Fields had long left the theater (some of whom loudly expressed their confusion about just who Juanes was and why he was headlining the night), a mixed-age crowd of Latino locals and university students pressed close to the stage with cell phones and cameras, dancing and singing along to every word of his songs.