The bigger Carlos Vives becomes at an international level, the tighter his connection with his native Colombia. On May 6 at Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena, Vives paid a no-holds-barred musical and visual homage to his home country, in a relentlessly upbeat and achingly sentimental show where he wore his Colombian-ness on his sleeve. Literally.
Like one of those “Find the hidden objects in the picture games,” Colombian symbolism and imagery seemed to pop up everywhere during Vives’ two hour set: Yes, there’s the obvious big screen images, but there’s also the Colombian crest on a side panel, a tiny pin with the Colombian flag colors on the leather jacket Vives wore for the first couple of numbers, traditional indigenous Colombian patterns on his guitar.
And of course, there’s the music.
Vives is known as the pioneer of blending traditional Colombian folklore — in the form of the accordion-based vallenato and cumbia — with pop and rock elements. His live band, which includes two electric guitars as well as keyboard and drums, bears that out, as do recent collaborations with the likes of Marc Anthony, Daddy Yankee, Michel Teló and an upcoming track with Shakira.
But Vives never strays far from the core sound that’s propelled him to the top of the charts time and time again. Live, the sound is amplified, with ample time dedicated to showcasing Vives accordionist, Egidio Cuadrado; his gaita (traditional flute) player, Mayte Montero; and his keyboardist and percussionist.
On Friday, Vives dug deep into his repertoire, going back to early vallenato covers and decade-old hits like his rousing “Fruta Fresca” and the beautiful “Carito,” both love songs to Colombia. He fast-forwarded to the evocative “Bailar Contigo,” written for his wife Claudia Elena, and soccer anthem “Mil canciones.”
A Vives show doesn’t allow for concert goers to sit; the arena was a massive dance party from the onset. But things reached a fever pitch when Vives’ friends started to parade onstage: Wisin for current hit “Nota de amor;” Choc Quib Town for “El mar de sus ojos;” fellow Colombian Maluma, wearing a Colombia soccer team shirt, for “La tierra del olvdo.” Even Vives’ young daughter Elena joined for “La foto de los dos.
A bit familiar, yes, but Miami is, after all, Vives’ home. He and Colombia got their heroes’ welcome.