As Colombia's drug and guerilla wars escalated in the '80s, the group's lyrics called for social change. "We didn't write love songs," Juanes says. "Rock was a way to vent." They also helped their community by raising funds and collecting books for schools.
10 things you probably don't know about Juanes
1. What is it that you are most afraid of?
Loneliness imposed by destiny.
2. Favorite game to play with your kids?
Everything. I adapt to their needs.
3. Most important quality in a woman?
4. In a man?
5. What are your favorite kid's books?
Amelia Bedelia and The Little Prince.
6. What do you always carry with you?
My rosary, my guitar, my computer, my cell phone.
7. Worst defect?
8. Best quality?
9. What do you spend too much money on?
10. Two albums for a desert isle?
Silvio Rodriguez's Mujeres and Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon.
Ekhymosis split up 12 years after they formed. Juanes headed to the United States on his own with $4,000 and his guitar, and ended up in Los Angeles. Alone in his apartment, he wrote more than 40 songs. "I came to know God, myself and many other things I needed to experience," he says. "I found a way to express myself as a soloist. I could talk about what I wanted, write what I wanted. But with freedom comes more responsibility.
One song, "Fíjate Bien," a cautionary tale about stepping on landmines, catapulted him to fame with fans and Colombian groups working with victims of war and other violence. "I wrote the song with no pretentions; it was just a song in the album," he says. "But when it became the single, all these people started to show up, the soldiers, the foundations, and I realized there was much to be done with music."
In 2005, Time named him one of the world's 100 most influential people. "You feel embarrassed," Juanes says. "You don't feel [influential] and you don't expect that [honor]. I was in shock."
But he's grateful for the doors the honor opened. A year later, he launched his foundation. "We focus on rehabilitating the psychological injuries, the toughest ones," he says. "We also promote the concept that peace is a right. The idea is to invest in children, who are the future."
In 2008, Juanes, 38, staged the massive, free Peace Without Borders concert on the Venezuela-Colombia border. The two nations and Ecuador had been on the brink of war due to a Colombian raid inside Ecuador. The concert celebrated the diplomatic end to the crisis.
Last year, with Bosé and other artists, Juanes held an encore concert in Cuba, performing for more than half a million people in what became a controversial musical moment. While the purpose of the concert was to promote peace, many Cuban exiles saw it as a public relations coup for the Castro regime and a lost opportunity for Juanes and other non-Cuban musicians who performed there. "I totally support his concert in Cuba," says Cuban American Mari Medina. "But why hasn't he publicly denounced the political prisoners held in Cuba?" she asks, adding that he has called for the release of such prisoners in Colombia. "You can't be on good terms with both God and the devil."
Juanes never set out to be a voice for any particular political movement, but people label you, he says. "We might be naïve, we might be idealists, but you must have the ability to believe the impossible is possible." Some might have considered global success, with songs only in Spanish, impossible. Yet his hit "La Camisa Negra" soared to number one in 43 countries. "It breaks age and social class barriers," says longtime manager Fernán Martínez.
And it transcends language differences. "Singing in Spanish is much more honest, much closer to my roots," says Juanes. "For me, Spanish is essential. I still think in Spanish, dream in Spanish. It's the melodies and arrangements that transmit meaning."
And that lead to a success that Juanes says brings him closer to his family. The singer is married to model and actress Karen Martínez. "She's my partner in life," he says. "She understands me and puts up with all my craziness." The couple has three children: Luna, 7, Paloma, 5, and Dante, 1. "My biggest joys in life," he says, "are my three children."
That joy prevails in P.A.R.C.E., a CD about love and forgiveness. "Music is my therapy. I use it to heal," he says. "All my happiness, all my pain, is there."