Colombian megastar Juanes, whose hit La Camisa Negra topped charts around the world, tried his hand at classical music for the first time this week at the legendary Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.
Juanes and his group combined forces for just two nights, Friday and Saturday, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the city's youth orchestra for disadvantaged kids.
"I've never played on stage with a symphony orchestra," Juanes, who has sold more than 15 million records and racked up more than a dozen awards over two decades, told AFP before the show.
The playlist features popular songs, along with some more "surprising, alternative choices," Juanes said. They also played songs from his first album that Juanes never sung on stage before.
For the 40-year-old father of three, who has announced plans to slow down the frenetic pace of his career, the concert is also a chance to go back to the city that launched him to stardom.
Juanes moved to Los Angeles in 1998, staying for two years. "It was a very difficult period because I didn't have money or a record deal," he recalled. But before too long, Juanes met Gustavo Santaolalla, the Argentine musician and producer who first signed him.
"Since then, I always came back to Los Angeles to record most of my albums," Juanes said. The musician said he loves the LA music scene, from the nonstop concerts, to the fantastic pool of studio musicians.
The singer said music was his life raft.
"Art transformed my life in an incredible way," he said. "I began to play very young, and I was living in Medellin in the 1980s and 1990s, a very difficult era in Colombia."
It was around then that notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar, who once supplied most of the cocaine to the United States, based his operations in Medellin, masterminding a campaign of kidnappings and bombings in Colombia's capital Bogota and other parts of the country.
He was eventually killed by police in 1993.
"I believe that music saved me because I could have taken very different paths," Juanes said.
The experience helped him appreciate the significance of music for the kids in LA's youth orchestra, created by the philharmonic's musical director, Venezuelan maestro Gustavo Dudamel.
"Their story is incredible," Juanes enthused.
The youths "come from challenging economic conditions. They join the program and music changes their life."
According to Juanes, who now lives in Miami, the benefits of the program extend beyond these young musicians.
"This also transforms a community, their families, their friends, their neighborhood," he said.
Today, even if he is still uncertain about his career's new direction, Juanes is sure of one thing: he can't live without music, without "this joy of singing, playing the guitar, putting on concerts and connecting with the public."
"Sometimes, I take a couple weeks without playing or practicing with my group, and I go crazy. It's like a drug," he said.
"I don't sing for money or glory, but because I am convinced that, for me, music is utterly fundamental."