Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Colombia’s New Beat

Carlos Vives’ Tribute to Rafael Pombo and Today’s Children

Photograph by Lars Klove

He launched his career re-interpreting the vallenatos of the master Rafael Escalona. Now Carlos Vives is going farther back in time to resurrect an icon of Colombian children’s literature, Rafael Pombo (1833 to 1912). Vives hopes to recover the values and ethics conveyed in Pombo’s whimsical fables of animals and the lessons of youth. In 2008, Carlos approached a number of Colombian musicians—all of whom shared a deep affection for Pombo’s characters—to record a CD that would set his poetic fables to music. Stars such as Juanes, Fonseca, Andrea Echeverri, and Cabas joined in immediately. Most surprising to Carlos was that many already had a notion of how they would interpret the story—the type of music, the beat and the treatment.

Released in August 2008, the album, illustrated by Leonardo Espinosa with all the characters (animal and human) that populate Pombo’s stories, draws from a mélange of Colombian music. Carlos’ eyes light up retelling—and singing—the contributions, explaining how each song and singer’s inflection convey the nuance and humor of the aristocratic author from Bogotá.

The album has become a best seller in Colombia, despite the lack of airplay. Many radio stations simply can’t figure out where to fit it in their playlists. But Carlos’ ambitions go beyond the CD. With the album’s illustrator he’s already fundraising and developing a children’s book that will follow the CD and repackage Pombo’s characters and lessons, like la pobre viejecita who can’t appreciate all that’s around her or Rinrín Renacuajo, the frog who refuses to listen to his mom and leaves home.

And beyond? Given the need to reinstill a sense of commitment and obligation in today’s youth, Carlos and his wife Claudia are hoping that this could expand into a children’s musical and cartoon series in which characters come alive, and Pombo himself—who in real life was a recluse—makes an appearance and helps to narrate and introduce the characters and stories. That will almost certainly keep Pombo alive for future generations of kids—of all ages.

Listen to Pombo Musical!

“El Modelo Alfabético” with Carlos Vives & Duo Huellas

“El Gato Bandido” with Juanes

“El Renacuajo Paseador” with Andrea Echeverri, Carlos Vives, Lucía Pulido, Iván Benavides, Carlos Iván Medina, Dúo Huellas, Bernardo Velasco, Ernesto Ocampo & Lucía Vives

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