Silvestre Dangond on Charting New Territory While Staying Faithful to His Vallenato Roots

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A report by Judy Cantor-Navas for Billboard.

With the Colombian artist’s “Cásate Conmigo” with Nicky Jam at No. 1 on the Latin Airplay Chart, he’s preparing a U.S. tour and a new vallenato album.

Silvestre Dangond’s “Cásate Conmigo” with urban hitmaker Nicky Jam marks the vallenato star’s first No. 1 Latin Airplay chart hit, heralding his triumphant move into the Latin music mainstream. But don’t expect the Colombian artist to stop writing what he calls “coherent, pretty and real” songs for the sake of success – or to appear on stage without an accordion player anytime soon.

Dangond is set for an extensive U.S. tour this summer, which could be anticipated by more hit genre-fusing collaborations. Meanwhile, the 37-year-old artist is preparing a new album of vallenato songs dedicated to his Colombian fans and other aficionados of the roots music that he calls “the most beautiful thing in the world.” He spoke to Billboard about charting new territory while remaining true to his origins.

“Cásate Conmigo” currently tops the Billboard Latin Airplay chart, spectacular confirmation that your listeners go beyond vallenato fans. How do you combine your desire to appeal to a wider audience while staying faithful to your roots?

One thing that’s clear to me is that I never want to fall behind the times. But that doesn’t mean that I’m just going to record whatever, because everything has to be in accord with my personality and with what I feel. I wanted to do a more universal kind of music and start to combine vallenato with other genres. But I’m firm in my conviction to write things that are coherent, pretty and real, and not so superficial; “Cásate Conmigo” is almost a poem. And you listen to “Ya No Me Duele Más” and it’s told like a story. When I made that decision to start moving into new territory, I said I’m going to do it but with good music.

Now you’re working with people like Nicky Jam, who comes from reggaeton and urban music. Has it been difficult for you to get into those different scenes and approach those artists who are more mainstream?

Yes, it’s hard work. And I hope it continues to be an effort because I think we need to make sacrifices to see good results; it’s never easy. For example, all of the urban artists today are at the summit, they are really flying high, and I don’t come from that genre. It always takes an effort, it’s a little complicated for me every time I have to propose [a song to someone for collaboration]. I’d like to do work with some of the big Colombian artists we have: Shakira, Carlos Vives, J Balvin, Maluma, but everything comes with time. Meanwhile, I’m working with the people who want to work with me, because the desire to do something together is most important. If you do something out of pure obligation without enjoying it, the result is not the same. I remember with Nicky they had played him four bars of the song when he said he would sing it; he really liked the song. That is so important, that the people like the music.

When I say the word “vallenato”, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

It’s the most beautiful thing in the world, because I was born there [on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, the cradle of Vallenato]. I defend what is mine. It’s me saying where I am from, what my roots are. It’s a genre with an incredible narrative quality; we’ve never gotten tired of saying so many things within the format of a certain number of lines and certain melodies. And it’s a genre that comes totally from the pueblo, from the street, it´s a native kind of folklore. It moves me, it’s makes me cry, and it’s given me so much joy, and through this genre I’ve been able to confirm that music is a language. The only thing is that vallenato has lacked opportunity. But now we are in other times. Things are done in a very different way than before, and I think what’s needed are people like me, a lot more Silvestres, a lot more Carlos Viveses, a lot more artists who do vallenato, to go out and promote it around the world.

I think everyone is in agreement that Carlos Vives has done the most to bring vallenato to international contemporary audiences. Are songs like “Cásate Conmigo” evidence that now it’s your turn to reinvent vallenato?  

Well, that’s for destiny to decide. I’ve been working for 15 years, and when I made the decision to start fusioning vallenato, a lot of people said I was crazy. Carlos was the pioneer of all that. I’m different, because I haven’t had that rock and pop influence that he did, and his way of songwriting is unique. I was born with vallenato and I’ll die with vallenato. I’m going to try to get as far as I can. It’s important to value what each person has to offer artistically and not just confine that to one genre.

You are working on a new album. What can we expect?

I’m working on a new vallenato album – that’s what my Colombian and vallenato followers are asking me for, and I’m here for them. It’s modern vallenato, but authentic vallenato, vallenato criollo. And [apart from that album] I’m doing different songs for the Latin market.

The accordion of course is a signature of vallenato, and one of the signatures of your songs, whether they have a pure vallenato sound or not…

The accordion gives everything a special touch, it can really break the ice, musically. It’s something I always have up my sleeve. Not everyone has an accordion on stage.

Do your vallenato fans like your new songs, like “Cásate Conmigo”?

Well, I haven’t asked them, but when I do a show,  everyone is singing my new songs, so I have to assume that they do.

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