October 5, 2008 / 2:10 AM / 10 years ago

Vallenato duo bring Colombian genre to U.S. fans

MIAMI (Billboard) - Vallenato, the traditional, accordion-anchored music of Colombia’s Caribbean coast, has long been seen as a poor cousin of tropical music in the United States.

Jorge Celedon (L) and Jimmy Zambrano of Colombia hold the Grammy for best cumbia/vallenato album for "Son...Para el Mundo" at the 8th annual Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas November 8, 2007. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Although vallenato’s influence can be heard in many Latin music recordings, the music in its traditional form is very much a niche genre in the States.

Now, Colombian vallenato duo Jorge Celedon & Jimmy Zambrano are embarking on an unprecedented 16-date romp that is the most extensive U.S. vallenato tour in recent memory, and the only tour that’s taking this music to theaters.

The Que Bonita Es Esta Vida (This Life Is Beautiful) tour, named after Celedon and Zambrano’s hit song of the same name, kicked off October 3 with a concert at the Arsht Center in Miami that featured a symphony orchestra. From there the tour moves on to other locales with Celedon’s and Zambrano’s 14-piece band.

The tour follows the May U.S. release of “De lo Nuevo lo Mejor,” an album that includes eight hits plus three new songs.

It’s the most ambitious tour to date to be produced and promoted by Day One Entertainment, the artist development arm of Sony BMG Latin.

“Prior to this, our promotion (in the States) was very timid,” Celedon said. “We needed that label support, and now we have it.”

“We’ve long been discussing taking vallenato to another level,” Sony BMG vice president of tropical promotion Carlos Perez said, “to take it out of the nightclubs and expand it. We saw it not only as a way to promote Jorge and Jimmy, but also to open up the doors for the genre here.”

Sony BMG has long been the major label with the largest vallenato presence in Colombia, with a roster that includes such stalwarts as Diomedes Diaz and Binomio de Oro.

But with Celedon and Zambrano, the label has tapped into a youthful audience that has embraced the genre and given it new life. Their song “Que Bonita Es Esta Vida,” an uplifting anthem that extols the joys of life, spent 50 weeks at No. 1 on Colombia’s vallenato chart and 10 weeks at No. 1 for all genres, according to B&V Marketing, which compiles Colombia’s radio charts.

That wave of popularity came hand in hand with a recent surge of Colombian patriotism. After former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other hostages were rescued in July after more than six years of captivity, they said during their first press conference that they would celebrate with “Que Bonita.”


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