Hola! How are you? I speak Portuguese too. Just kidding! Let’s do it in English.” Maluma gets my attention in the first few seconds of the conversation. During the course of which, he reveals himself to be a Colombian, Latin and global singer; a 26-year-old musician who wanted to play football and ended up recording with Madonna, Anitta and Ricky Martin; the “farm boy” from Medellín who reached the catwalk of Dolce & Gabbana in Milan; the sexiest man on the planet who says he is shy and who now, from the top of the world, invests his fortune in the education for vulnerable young people.
“I sing in Spanish and people know my music, whether in Romania or Israel. I have always dreamed of this: connecting cultures and taking mine [Colombian] around the world.” Latin and proud, he believes that Spanish pop, a ubiquitous presence in his work, is now bigger than what English pop was ten years ago. His is the voice that takes this music from the South American continent to Saudi Arabia or Japan.
In the decade he’s been around, he has passed a billion views with his 2017 track “Felices los 4”. Around the release of his fifth album, Papi Juancho, he had 53.3 million followers on Instagram, 35 million monthly streams on Spotify and 25 million on YouTube (which also hosts a documentary about his childhood and separation from his parents). Maluma’s reggaeton incorporates many languages, with roots in salsa. He credits his grandfather, owner of an extensive collection of vinyls, as the one who introduced him to music.
That influence would return in 2019, on the 11:11 album, in which he quotes Héctor Lavoe, Puerto Rican icon of the genre. “I want people to know me as a Latin artist, but one that is not restricted to a musical genre. To recognise me only by Maluma,” explains the artist, who is not called Maluma after all: In real life, he goes by Juan Luis Londoño Arias. The stage name is a combination of his mother, Marlli, his father, Luis, and his sister, Manuela’s names. This global/local game is a constant for the boy who gave up being a football player and found music almost by chance.
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