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J Balvin - You Can’t Take Medellín Out of the Boy

Updated: Oct 6, 2022

J Balvin

You Can’t Take Medellín Out of the Boy

By Jay S. Jacobs

In recent years, Reggaetón has become the world music of Latin America. Perhaps the greatest ambassador for the musical style is international superstar José Álvaro Osorio Balvin, better known by his stage name of J Balvin. Balvin has sold over 35 million records worldwide and received the designation “The Prince of Reggaetón.” Even former US President Barack Obama asked at a 2018 Get Out the Vote rally, “Who doesn’t love J Balvin and reggaetón?”

Balvin is the subject of the new documentary The Boy from MedellÍn, directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Matthew Heineman {City of Ghosts, A Private War). The movie started out as a simple celebration of Balvin’s return to his hometown for a huge stadium show. However things got complicated when as he was arriving home, the country was exploding in protests due to social and political unrest. Balvin, who has always tried to keep his artistic endeavors rather apolitical, found himself pressured to make a stand for his people.

A few days before the release of The Boy from MedellÍn, we had the opportunity to take part in a virtual press conference with J Balvin about the movie, his career and life in modern Colombia.

Why did you want to make a documentary about a week in your life which was so important and so chaotic for you professionally?

It wasn't planned, really. It had nothing to do with it. We were just going to do a concert special. Like everything in life, there is a 99% that is out of our reach. That's why Matthew [Heineman] redirected this whole situation to what was happening. It wasn't like, "Let's talk about this." We were just going to my concert and telling the story of the concert in a very normal way. The process, how tedious and what it takes to be able to do a concert. It was not in our hands that there was going to be social disorder that difficult week.

Mental health is an important topic in the documentary, and you have talked a lot about it on your social networks. What motivated you to express yourself and share something so personal about your life?

I believe that in the end it is a reality, how it is happening in COVID. Mental health illnesses are also a pandemic. They are in all parts of the world and many people are simply afraid to speak about them and recognize them. It's the same as the situation with COVID. At the beginning of COVID people would say, "I have COVID" and people would run away and like, "You're weird." In the end, most of us end up infected. The same thing happens with mental health diseases. Many people have suffered from them. Many in a more acute way, others less acute, but it is part of reality.

How did the experience we see in the documentary change the way you use your social networks to express yourself and speak out on social issues?

It is still an apprenticeship because we did not choose to enter the world of politics. Our choice was purely musical and entertainment. What happens is that today we have a bigger and more powerful platform than that of any politician. That is when you have to begin to understand the social responsibility that you have as a public figure. It was not easy. It has not been easy, but here we continue to learn.

You have always wanted to continue making your music in Spanish. Was it difficult at first for the industry to accept that your music is in Spanish?

No. Or if I saw it, I don't remember. I do not have any kind of bad memories about it. I was always very faithful to my movement and what I wanted to achieve. Here we continue, and we will continue making music with love and with the desire to internationalize our Latin culture throughout the world.

You returned home to Medellín for this important concert. Does the city continue to inspire you after so long?

100%. That's my home. It's where I grew up, where I was born, the city that saw me grow up.

You also speak in the documentary of the song “El Cantante” by Héctor Lavoe, which is a very good song. Do you remember when you heard it for the first time or when you began to identify with it?

I was very young when I heard it. I never thought it was going to touch me. That is why it causes me a lot of nostalgia when I listen to it. I have grown up and realize that this message was direct for me and for many.

You also talk about being José first and then J Balvin. How do you achieve a balance between these two facets of your life?

It is not easy. That's why I am looking for balance because there is always an imbalance at some point. It is complicated, but here we are still looking for that balance.

Seeing yourself on screen in the documentary, did it teach you something new about yourself? Did it make you reconsider anything about yourself?

Yes. I am more and more human, and I try to be a better person.

There is a lot of vulnerability in the documentary, it seems to me.

100%. We are all vulnerable. What happens is that there are those who want to accept it and those who do not want to accept it, but finally we are all under the same shadow. Vulnerability is part of the human being, whether you want to accept it or not.

Was there a moment in the documentary that was recorded that was not important to you perhaps?

There was so much information, so much that I could have done three, four, five, six hours.

I also find it interesting and very important that we see in the documentary the people who are around you, your whole team, your close people. It seems to me that sometimes we do not realize as a public the moral and emotional machinery that an artist needs to be on the stage.

Yes, obviously. The most important thing is to surround yourself with good people, people who are better than you, so that I can someday become like them.

Being away from the stage during this pandemic, how complicated has it been for you?

Super difficult. You need that dose of dopamine, joy. Feel that emotion from the public, feel people close. You really need it.

Do you think that through what we see in the documentary maybe the fans can connect a little with you? Not only in the emotional way, but also to see a bit of this concert.

I think that in this documentary they will suddenly learn not to judge others so easily.

Sometimes we forget that we are all human beings.

100%. I do try to keep it in mind because that keeps me grounded.

Are you currently in a creative moment in your life? Are you perhaps planning the next step?

Yes, I keep making music, creative. Unfortunately, Colombia is also going through a process that is the same or much worse, really. That makes me sad. That makes me sleepless. That's why I'm wearing glasses at this hour and yawning because I haven't slept, thinking about what else I can do to help. Although I'm already here working.

Yes, you are.

I used my platform networks yesterday at 4:00 AM. I couldn't take it anymore and I said, "It's time to reactivate that one – To tell the world what is currently happening," because it is very sad, it is very sad. There is a civil war at the moment and there are no words for it. We wish that through love, tolerance and conversation we could reach something.


Hate generates more hate. I only wanted to share a couple of images to open my eyes to what is happening. From now on everything is more like the way we are going to approach to be able to fix this complex situation.

Use your voice to the best of your ability.


I find it interesting that you lived in the United States, you worked. It seems to me that many people can relate to that experience. How did it affect you?

It marked me to continue learning, you have to keep fighting every day. Your future is not in the hands of others. You have to be the creator of your own present and your own future. Just as I worked illegally in the United States and had to go through many tests, here we continue to fight and work for it. My message is one of struggle, not to give up but to continue insisting.

To finish, among all the important messages in the documentary, what is the one that reaches you? Mental health? What we see of fame perhaps?

Everything. Something is going to fall to someone. Something is going to make someone understand what is happening. Also how it touches us or how it was my turn to learn and see how this situation is handled. Which is not easy to face, especially when they are political situations.

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: May 7, 2021.

Photo #1 ©2021 Jay S. Jacobs. All rights reserved.

Photos #2-5 © 2020 SCV JB Concert Doc Project, LLC. Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video. All rights reserved.

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