He is known only by his surname, Fonseca. The singer-songwriter from Bogotá was barley a teenager in the 1990s when the music industry was grooming fellow Colombian artists who also went by a single name, Shakira and Juanes. And the young up-and-comer was barely out of college when he was invited to open for those same international superstars, who could have been his slightly older siblings.
Today, Fonseca is their full-fledged peer, sharing the top of the charts and the world stage as one of his country's most popular performers with growing worldwide acclaim. This talented 30-year-old is the new standard-bearer of a musical revolution that started when he was still a child, one rooted in Colombia's rich folk music traditions -- especially the joyful, accordion-accented coastal music called vallenato -- but modernized with rock vitality and electric guitars. Fonseca's music marks the next step in that cultural movement, the evolution of the revolution. With three successful albums to his credit, he continues to build on those roots while incorporating an ever wider spectrum of other styles, from lounge and jazz to big-city salsa and melodic romantic pop. In the process, he has produced a fresh urban fusion that owes as much to George Michael as Carlos Vives.
Versatility has always been the hallmark of Fonseca's increasingly influential body of work as a songwriter. His compositions weave heartfelt lyrics and irresistible melodies with equal ease in many styles and moods -- from rural to urban, tropical to romantic, festive to melancholic. With a master's magic touch, he can make listeners swoon, sway or swing.
That range is showcased on “Gratitud,” his third album which quickly shot to No. 1 on the Colombian charts after its release in 2008. Fonseca's pop skills shine on seductive songs like “San Jose” and “Paraíso,” a tune with a hypnotic vibe and a touch of flamenco soul which was featured on the soundtrack for the film “Paraíso Travel.” The festive spirit of vallenato infuses the hit track, “Arroyito,” which then turns to pure romanticism in an acoustic version that appears on a special edition of the album released in 2009. The expanded CD also includes the achingly nostalgic “Estar Lejos” (To Be Far Away), featuring a harmonious, cross-generational duet with salsa legend Willie Colon.
The success of “Gratitud” led to Fonseca!s most extensive and successful concert tour, dubbed the “Gratitour.” It included his first concerts ever in Spain, as well as sold-out shows throughout Latin America and the United States, where he visited 16 cities, four times as many as his first U.S. tour.
“Of all the things involved with my career, playing live is what I like to do best,” he says. “There's something magical about the concert experience, whether I'm on stage or in the audience. From start to finish, it's as if you put a pause on life and you forget your daily problems because you are absorbed in that moment.”
Being on stage in front of an audience has been a lifelong dream for Juan Fernando Fonseca. His stardom may seem like an overnight success, but it has entailed years of study, hard work and his share of hard knocks that at times threatened to derail his career. The training paid off in Fonseca's heartfelt and engaging vocal style which the New York Times has compared to Sting and Juan Luis Guerra.
He continued his music studies at two prestigious universities in Bogotá, but he never graduated. Before he could get his degree, he got a recording contract. It was the start o f a period of great expectations, as well as high anxiety for the aspiring artist.
“Corazon” (Heart), his second album, was released in 2005 by EMI. It included his breakthrough hit, “Te Mando Flores” (I Send You Flowers), which spent 22 consecutive weeks at No. 1 on Colombia's radio charts. That was followed by two other singles, “ Hace Tiempo” (It's Been a While) and “Como Me Mira” (How She Looks at Me), which were pivotal to his growing popularity in Latin America.
Now, Fonseca himself was on the musical map -- globally. He was named best new artist both by Premios Lo Nuestro and by the MTV Latin America Music Awards. In addition, “Corazon” won a Billboard Latin Music Award for best tropical album and "Te Mando Flores" won a Latin Grammy for best tropical song.
The singer was tapped as sponsor of a presidential program called “Canta Conmigo” (Sing With Me), which provides music instruction to former guerillas and paramilitary fighters to help their social re-integration. He's also a champion a United Nations program, one that combats violence against women. Links to this program is featured prominently on his web site, www.fonseca.net Fonseca maintains an impressive presence on the Internet, with thousands of friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter. “I'm addicted to it,” says the singer, who sends his own Tweets and personally responds to messages.
But despite the digital advances, there's nothing Fonseca loves more than connecting with fans in person. On stage, he sees himself not just as an artist, but as a cultural ambassador, countering the country!s outdated reputation for civil strife and narco-violence.
“After all these years, there are some people who still associate Colombia with all those bad things,” he says. “But I believe a country and its people are known through their music. That's why I always want to use my concerts to carry my country's banner high, so that when people think of Colombia they think of music.”