Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 February 2020

Maluma comes to Dubai: Why the 'Latin Justin Bieber' is worth seeing

The Colombian heart throb arrives in the UAE at the peak of his fame

Maluma says he wants to inspire youths in Latin America with images of his success in music Getty
Maluma says he wants to inspire youths in Latin America with images of his success in music Getty

One way of getting international recognition is to have Madonna suck your toe in a music video. That is what happened when the queen of pop released her single Medellin last year, a track that acts as a love letter to the Colombian city. More than the evocative production and visuals, what got the attention of fans was the other artist on the song, Maluma, and the toe-sucking.

To be fair, Maluma was already well known in Latin America, with a near decade-­long career as a pop singer. But his association with Madge took him beyond the region and put him on the road to becoming a global star in his own right.

Music fans in the UAE will have the chance to discover what all the fuss is about when Maluma, 26, performs a Valentine’s Day concert at Dubai’s 17,000-capacity Coca-Cola Arena.

Whether he sells out the venue or not, he is a big star, with his tours in Latin America and North America sold out months in advance.

That is before we even get into his astronomical social media numbers. He has about 50 million followers on Instagram and his biggest hit, 2017’s Corazon, clocked up more than 1.4 billion streams on YouTube.

With all that momentum, you’ve got to applaud Maluma’s willingness to scale things down and add new stops such as the UAE to his world tour. Then again, a Dubai show was part of Maluma’s plans as long ago as 2018. When asked by Rolling Stone magazine about what was on his career bucket list, he was clear. “An Anglo Grammy, of course I want that. And I want to keep doing these kinds of big shows – go to Dubai and perform in an arena and also go to Tokyo.”

That was all an indication of his large ambition and the drive he has to become a global star and emulate his musical heroes Enrique Iglesias, Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez.

Maluma has certainly got the overall sound and bravado to do it. Born Juan Luis Londono Arias in Medellin – Maluma’s stage name is made up of the first two letters of his parents’ and sister’s first names – he spent his early years nurturing his football talent, while singing for fun at parties and local events.

With the social media explosion, particularly on YouTube, which has played a role in propelling new acts from Latin America to global recognition, Maluma ditched the football and released his debut single, Farandulera, in 2011 at the age of 16.

The song’s popularity in Colombia earned him a major record deal and a year later he released his debut album, Magia, featuring Latin hits Obsesion and Loco. That album, full of sweet Spanish balladry and pop-friendly reggaeton, established Maluma as Latin America’s Justin Bieber, an image the singer began to shed as he released more racy tunes and dabbled in hip-hop and dance music.

That move came at a price, though. Maluma was embroiled in the biggest controversy of his career when he released Cuatro Babys in 2016. The hit track, in which he sings from the perspective of a man who can’t choose between four love interests, divided his female fan base and a petition was created that called for the song to be removed from digital platforms due to its objectification of women. Maluma apologised and only recently began to discuss the incident at length.

In a profile published in British GQ, he explains the song isn’t a calculated attempt to shock people.

The track was also criticised within music circles, with Puerto Rican rappers Anuel A A and Bad Bunny questioning Maluma’s reggaeton credentials. Anuel A A delivered a trending Twitter burn in which he described radio-friendly rapping as the “Maluma flow”.

Not that Maluma is worried. He has never shied away from expressing his ambition and his enjoyment of the trappings of success. And with the favourable outcome of his fourth album, the pop opus 11:11 – in which Maluma collaborates with Madonna, Ricky Martin and Ty Dolla Sign – the Colombian is certainly living the good life.

Enthusiastic in showcasing his lavish lifestyle on Instagram, expect Maluma to post images of his jet-black private plane landing in Dubai and the occasional inspirational posts from picturesque locations in the UAE.

But such images will not simply be a boast.

Maluma has launched a foundation, The Art of Dreams, which supports performing arts in Colombia, and says he hopes images of his success encourage young Colombians to dream big and transcend the stigmas associated with certain aspects of South American culture.

“When I was very young, I was watching all these American movies, and everybody in the Latin culture wanted the ‘American Dream’, they wanted to go the United States,” he said. “Of course, we find a lot of opportunities in America, but I think we feel more proud to be Latin than we used to, because we have the opportunities here in Latin America right now. We live in a very big moment, we have to take advantage of it.”

Maluma will perform at the Coca-Cola Arena on Friday, February 14 in Dubai . More information is available at www.coca-cola-arena.com

Updated: February 12, 2020 07:06 PM

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