Electrifying entire arenas to dissolve all inhibitions and dance like nobody's watching comes naturally for Colombian music star Maluma. The 29-year-old, whose songs surpass 50 billion streams worldwide, greeted "Sunday Morning" in Sacramento last month at the start of his North American tour.
His genre-melding sound is called reggaetón, a mix of Puerto Rican rap, hip-hop, and Jamaican dance hall, just to name a few. Reggaetón has transformed music globally over the last 20 years.
Luciano asked, "What needs to be on a reggaetón song?"
"The spirit of being a warrior," Maluma replied. "When I met all these reggaetón big artists, they came from the streets and they had to hustle, you know? Someone that wants to conquer the world without many opportunities."
And conquer he has - music, of course, but also film, a mezcal, menswear, a Porsche partnership and a burger brand. But a world away from screaming fans and flashing lights, in the hills outside his hometown of Medellin, Colombia, Juan Luis Londoño Arias (his birth name) reins in the fantasy, keeping a tight grip on what feels real.
Luciano asked, "I wonder if the person who drives through those doors and comes to this ranch and spends time with the horses, is that still Maluma, or is that Juan Luis?"
"That's a good question. You know that there is not Maluma without Juan Luis," he said. "So, every time I feel that Juan Luis is recharged and my human being is full of the things I really love, like my family, like my horses, like a good coffee, like the mountains, like the Medellin, like when I feel full in my, yeah. In my human side, I feel like I can explore more and more with my music and my career."
Maluma performs "Sobrio," from his most recent album, "Don Juan":
Most artists would not admit they pursued music for money. But as a teen after his dad lost his job and his mom struggled to keep things afloat, he switched his dream of becoming a soccer pro for a different goal. "I was like, I think this is what's gonna take my family to a better life," he said.
So, music was survival? "Oh yeah, survival. Music saved my life."
But he still had to prove himself worthy among the rough warriors of the reggaetón genre. "At the beginning it was hard," he said, "because they were all like, This guy is only pretty, whatever it is, he looks good like, whatever, but he doesn't sing. He has no talent."
"Do people doubt that you write? That you compose?" asked Luciano.
"Oh yeah. Everything. They were like, Okay, this guy, he doesn't have any talent. And that's where all my athlete mentality came right away. Started going to the studio every day. Making music every, every day."
Maluma performs "Borró Cassette":
It paid off. Lyrics pushing the limits of sex and luxury have made him enough money to buy more than a handful of pretty toys, a stable full of show horses, even a one-of-a-kind purple Ferrari – a real-life Hot Wheels car.
Young and a rising royal, he has already shared court with the queen of pop, at her behest, when Madonna came to Medellin to sing with Maluma. "I was seeing, like, people who I grew up, like the teacher from high school, my friends from high school, everybody was there. So, when I saw her coming up on stage, I was like, is this actually happening? I am in a dream because she is the queen of pop."
Manifesting dreams is the purpose of his foundation, El Arte de los Sueños, in the heart of Medellin, emboldening at-risk youth from across the region to tap into their own reggaetón warrior potential. He said, "It's beautiful, because it reminds me when I started. I just wanted to conquer the world."
Not even 30, his journey is just beginning. He's still picking up speed, having fun and dreaming big. "I feel like someday we're gonna get there to that point. We're gonna say, 'Wow, we made it!'" he said.
"You don't feel that way yet?" Luciano asked.
"Oh, no way. I'm just starting," he replied. "I feel like some countries still that I need to conquer to become one of the biggest artists on Earth."
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Story produced by Luisa Garcia and John Goodwin. Editor: Remington Korper.
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