Artists; arguably Medellín’s best international export. In recent years, they have shattered the boundaries of the Latin market. Medellín’s finest artists now captivate BILLIONS of listeners, and from all corners of the globe. This includes the US & Europe.
It’s official – Medellín is a city of artists. No, that’s not hyperbole. Medellin is one of forty-seven global Cities of Music, designated by UNESCO. Furthermore, of the six recognized cities located in Latin America, three are in Colombia.
Colombia may be known as “The land of a thousand rhythms” but the current name of the game in Medellín is reggaeton. The city is at the forefront of the genre’s movements.
In this article, let’s explore Medellín’s most prominent artists and the role of their city in cultivating their talents.
A Little Bit of History...
The Antioquian capital is no stranger to pumping out music. In the midst of the 20th century, roughly 80% of all national record production was realized in Medellín. How did Medellín, a city which was at the time dominated by the manufacturing industry, become an epicentre for musical production?
While scholars contest the exact reasons, they agree that the introduction of mass media and record labels were key. Colombia’s first major record label, Disco Fuentes, was founded in 1934, in Cartagena. By 1954, they relocated their headquarters to Medellín.
They were not alone in this endeavour. By 1960, two more major record labels would set up shop in Medellín: Sonolux & Zeida. Collectively, these 3 labels would pave the way for tropical “costeño” music.
Medellin had utilized the tools of mass media to foster a relationship between radio and record label. They were bridging the gap between producers and consumers. Musical journalism also flourished throughout the city. This in turn, consolidated Medellin as Colombia’s musical capital.
According to one scholar, Egberto Bermúdez, Medellín was promoting music through talent contests; sponsored radio shows, and even nurturing musical talent amongst working class demographics, such as those working in Medellín’s dominant industrial sector. The city encouraged active participation.
This period of growth, from the 40s-60s, is referred to by scholars as the “Golden Years”.
Medellín as a UNESCO City of Music
Indeed, Medellín does have a rich cultural and historic background in music. That alone however, is not enough to gain recognition as a UNESCO City of Music. Rather, these are the requirements, as set forth by UNESCO:
- Recognized centres of musical creation and activity;
- Experience in hosting musical festivals and events at a national or international level;
- Promotion of the music industry in all its forms
- Music schools, conservatories, academies & higher education institutions specialized in music;
- Informal structures for music education, including amateur choirs and orchestras;
- Domestic or international platforms dedicated to particular genres of music and/or music from other countries;
- Cultural spaces suited for practicing and listening to music, e.g., open-air auditoriums.”
Before diving into the specific requirements stipulated by UNESCO, it is imperative to understand the role of music today in Medellín. To understand that, we must first acknowledge the state of social decay that the city was faced with in the 90s.
Plunging to become the world’s most dangerous city; hope was a foreign concept for many of Medellín’s young minds. Without dreams and feeling disenfranchised, large pockets of the youth were left feeling worthless. This made them a dispensable resource for the nation’s multiple conflicts; cannon fodder. The figures below demonstrate how bleak the situation really was:
In the 10 years from 1990-2000, some 2,466 youngsters were murdered throughout Medellín.
According to one source, it was estimated that 1 in every 10 youngsters living in a comuna was a sicario, otherwise known as a hitman.
To confront such a miserable situation, a multi-angled response was required. A large part of that response came in the form of art and music in particular. Through these means, the city endeavoured to bring about social and economic transformation.
At the core of driving that transformation, is the Secretariat of Culture.
How Did Medellín Become a UNESCO City of Music?
Referring to the stipulated requirements above, let’s examine how Medellín made the cut as a City of Music.
Experience in hosting musical festivals and events at a national or international level
Medellín hosts numerous annual events and festivals. The most known of which is the Flower Festival. Between 2016-19, over 6,600 local artists participated.
Separately, there is the annual rock event known as the Altavoz Festival. The function of which is to promote cultural industry and empower local artists. Between 2016-19 there were 1,242 local, 35 national and 59 international bands that participated.
While this list is not exhaustive, it is worth mentioning the International Tango Festival – the second largest in South America (after Buenos Aires, of course…)
Promotion of the music industry in all its forms
How does Medellín achieve this? Through its Participatory Budgeting strategy…
By allowing citizens and communities to determine the allocation of resources towards cultural events, it is a way of decentralizing influence. Medellín’s people are able to actively partake in the promotion of the music industry.
Communities have their say on how the city should empower local artists and drive the industry forward.
Domestic or international platforms dedicated to particular genres of music
- International Tango Festival – dedicated chiefly to the genre of Tango. The annual event brings local and national artists to the global stage.
- Altavoz Festival – dedicated mostly to the genre of rock.
Cultural spaces suited for listening to and practicing music/recognized centres of musical activity
Through means of art, music and dance, Comuna 13 has transformed from a no-go area into a cultural hotspot. Musicians, both local and international, take advantage of the growing tourist crowds to play and promote their music.
Although informal in nature, Comuna 13 has evolved into a platform for those that need it the most. By providing reach and exposure for local talent, the comuna now provides hope after many years of having destroyed it..
The Name of the Game in Medellín: Reggaeton
At the turn of the 21st century, numbered were the days of “costeño” music production. Thanks to a combination of sociological & technological developments, production shifted towards a new “urban” genre of music.
Despite its inception in Puerto Rico, Reggaeton quickly came to life in Medellin, Colombia. How so?
The sentiment of the youth changed, radio communications shifted their attention away from previous genres in favour of reggaeton. Even the most seminal artists of the time decided to make Medellín their base of operations. Artists such as Don Omar, Daddy Yankee and Tego Calderon – they were all welcomed with open arms into the City of Eternal Spring.
Two decades later and Medellín is both birthplace and home of reggaeton’s biggest stars. Nobody champion’s the genre quite like Maluma, J Balvin or Karol G.
Collectively, these artists are the current spearheads of the genre. Through their contribution to the genre, reggaeton has been able to transcend far beyond Latin markets. In Western countries, such as the US & Europe, reggaeton continues to grow in popularity.
Medellín's Biggest Musical Stars
With the prominence of reggaeton today, it should be no surprise that some of the city’s biggest stars are going for the throne.
Medellin’s top 4 reggaeton artists garner more than 155 million monthly listeners on Spotify!
Below is a list of Medellín’s most prominent and influential artists, today in 2022:
Real name: José Álvaro Osorio Balvín
Date of birth: 7/05/1985
Net worth: $20 million (USD)
Right now, J Balvin is one of the biggest thriving Latin artists with over 35 million record sales. He also boasts over 60 million monthly listeners on Spotify.
J Balvin has been credited for propelling the genre into the global spotlight. He is even dubbed by fans as the “Prince of Reggaeton”.
Despite the genre emerging in Costa Rica with seminal artists like Daddy Yankee, J Balvin has climbed to the top, making him one of reggaeton’s biggest icons.
In doing so he has consolidated Medellin’s position on the international stage. The Guardian even described him as “arguably Colombia’s biggest cultural export.”
Speaking of which, the superstar is open about his love for Medellin. He currently owns two properties; he likes to alternate between his city apartment and a larger house outside in Llanogrande.
Other genres are still thriving
Although Medellin's biggest musical export is reggaeton, it does not mean that more mature genres of music are no longer popular. Vallenato, Tropical Salsa and Meringue are all alive and well in 2022.
Real name: Juan Luis Londoño Arias
Date of birth: 28/01/1994
Net worth: $12 million (USD)
Easily one of the most recognizable Paisas in the world. The reggaeton movement is indebted to this individual for capturing the hearts of international fans.
Did you know that ‘Maluma’ is the combined first two letters of the names of his mother Marlli, father Luis and sister Manuela?
At just 28, Maluma boasts a fruitful career. Not only is he spearheading the reggaeton movement, but has also featured in Walt Disney’s “Encanto” movie.
Maluma knows exactly how to put both reggaeton and Medellin on the global map. In 2019, he collaborated with American superstar Madonna. Together, they released their song, appropriately titled “Medellín”. Today, IT has been played over 53 million times on YouTube alone.
Regardless of how busy he may get, Maluma never forgets to make time for his hometown. On April 30, 2022 he will come to Medellin to perform in what he has described as “the most important moment of this career”.
There are only 3000 tickets available however all of his followers will be able to watch it for free exclusively on Prime Video or Amazon Music app.
Real name: Carolina Giraldo Navarro
Date of birth: 14/02/1991
Net worth: $8 million (USD)
In an industry dominated by men, Karol G stands out like a beacon of light.
The reggaeton scene is almost entirely represented by men. Unfortunately, misogyny is a prevailing issue. Things are changing though, and Karol G has received praise for laying down the groundwork. She has been quoted asking, “why should I limit how I express myself?”
Through her collaborations with big names such as Nicki Minaj and Becky G, she has been instrumental in propping up the genre in Western markets like the US.
At the time of writing this, there are currently 40 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Her collaboration with Nicki Minaj has been viewed over 1 billion times online.
Real name: Sebastián Obando Giraldo
Date of birth: 15/10/1994
Net worth: N/A
Rising to international success in 2016 with his hit single, “Traicionera”. Yatra’s single charted throughout Europe and the US, in addition to South America. It even rose to number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
The Medellín born singer is also playing his part in cementing the genre on Western fronts.
In June 2019, Yatra released his first English/Spanish bilingual single, Runaway. It’s a collaboration with the Jonas Brothers.
Even though he was born in Colombia, Yatra spent most of his youth growing up in Florida. At 20 years of age, he finally returned to Colombia to begin recording his music. Other than his 2019 single, all of his songs have been recorded in Spanish – something that Yatra proclaims helped him give his “roots the importance they deserve.”
Like Maluma, J Balvin & Karol G, Yatra has an excellent command of the English language; an indispensable tool in helping to bridge Latin/US markets.
As we have seen Medellín is not only a charming city for its wonders and people. But also because it is the cultural epicenter of music in Colombia.
If you want to know more about Medellín and also discover the opportunities and advantages that this incredible place offers. Contact me or leave me your contact information and we will guide you in this great adventure.