Juanes makes a joyful noise with the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles

Juanes with the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA)

By Laura Ferreiro

With countless Latin Grammys and chart-topping hits under his belt, a worldwide tour in full swing and three young kids to look after, it’s hard to imagine Juanes having time for much else. But the Colombian superstar is a tireless social and humanitarian advocate who founded Mi Sangre Foundation to help victims of anti-personnel mines, serves as a goodwill ambassador for United for Colombia, and co-founded “Paz sin Fronteras” (Peace Without Borders) — a non-profit that uses music to unite populaces regardless of political or geographic divides and advocate that all people are entitled to the basic human right of peace.

Now, with a tour stop at the Hollywood Bowl where he’ll headline two nights this weekend, Juanes invited the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) to perform with him on the renowned outdoor stage. The day before their August 17 performance they convened at YOLA’s rehearsal space at the EXPO Hall in Exposition Park to run through several of the tunes they’ll play this weekend as part of the “Americas and Americans” series.

“You guys sound great!” he told the orchestra after they played their first song together. The young musicians were obviously thrilled to be performing with the pop star and brimmed with enthusiasm.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen a famous person in person and I’m freaking out!” 14-year-old percussionist Crystal Batres said during rehearsal. “I came over here right after school and I couldn’t believe it when I saw him.”

The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s YOLA program was inspired by Venezuela’s groundbreaking music education program El Sistema – where renowned music director Gustavo Dudamel learned to conduct. The LA Phil and its community partners provide YOLA with free instruments, intensive musical training and academic support to students from underserved neighborhoods, helping them master their instruments and reach their full potential.

The kids from YOLA at EXPO range in age from 12 to 16 and expertly wielded their violins, cellos, horns, percussion and woodwind instruments like they were old pros. They ran through several numbers with Juanes, led by conductor Bruce Kiesling, and afterwards had the unique opportunity to ask the charismatic pop star a few questions. They jumped at the chance and asked when he started playing music, who his favorite musicians are, what he thinks about when writing songs and more.

He told the kids that he got hooked on music at a very young age and began playing guitar when he was just six years old. “I’m the youngest of six brothers, and they were all playing guitar and singing,” he said. “Then I picked up my first electric guitar when I was 14 and I still love rock music so I keep doing it.”

Juanes told the young musicians that Bob Marley stands out as one of his favorite musicians. “His message is so powerful,” he said, adding that guitar legends Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix are also major influences.

Finally, the inevitable question was popped. “Are you married?” a swooning young girl asked Juanes. He explained that he’s happily married with two young daughters and a son, and a collective sigh filled the room.

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