Colombia is one of the cultural powerhouses of Latin America, the southern hemisphere, and, indeed, the world, producing literary legends from Gabriel Garcia Marquez to artistic icons like Fernando Botero. And the domain of music is no exception with a number of superstars coming from this small island nation.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at the lives and careers of 13 of the greatest and most famous Colombian singers of all time. Let’s get started.
Shakira is perhaps the most famous Colombian vocalist in the world, and for good reason.
While Shakira is of Lebanese and Colombian descent (and, what’s more, her father was an American citizen!), she has become an icon of the latter culture, being the best-selling female artist in Latin music in history.
She was born in Barranquilla, a buzzing city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, and developed her talents as an amateur poet, singer, and bellydancer.
She recorded her first album, Magia, at the age of thirteen, and in the four decades since, she has become an icon worldwide with songs including “Hips Don’t Lie,” “Loca,” and “Chantaje.”
2. J Balvin
The second name on our list is another of Colombia’s most acclaimed artists. J Balvin was born José Álvaro Osorio Balvín in the metropolis of Medellín in Colombia’s central Antioquia department.
He grew up with the rock music of Metallica and Nirvana and the reggaeton stylings of Daddy Yankee.
After several years of experimentation with various musical styles in the clubs and streets of Medellín (where he adopted his stage name), J Balvin found success with the Latin Grammy-nominated song “6 AM.”
Since then, Balvin has achieved even greater acclaim for tracks like “Ay Vamos” and “Mi Gente.”
Another international superstar from Colombia is Juanes, a pop and rock musician from the interior city of Carolina del Príncipe.
Influenced by both traditional Colombian styles like vallenato and the rock music of groups like the Beatles and Metallica, Juanes formed the band Ekhymosis in the late 80s.
Though Ekhymosis did not achieve international notoriety, Juanes fared better in his solo career: his first two albums, Fíjate Bien and Un Día Normal, earned him national acclaim and nine Latin Grammy Awards.
Juanes’ success has continued to increase with time, with his La Vida… Es Un Ratico and Juanes: MTV Unplugged both earning Grammy Awards.
4. Carlos Vives
While he isn’t a household name all over the world in the way that Shakira and J Balvin are, Carlos Vives belongs on this list just as much as they do.
Born in Santa Marta, a city near the northeastern end of Colombia’s Caribbean coast, Vives began his career as a film and telenovela actor.
It was during this period that he released several albums, but these failed to generate buzz. His fortunes changed in 1991 when he took a role as vallenato composer Rafael Escalona. In this role, he released two telenovela soundtrack albums, which earned him national success.
Since then, Vives has continued his rise in popularity, appearing in over 30 films and earning 13 Latin Grammys and 2 Grammys.
Fonseca, born Juan Fernando Fonseca Carrera, is another Colombian singer who has been able to deftly meld traditional Colombian music with pop stylings.
Fonseca was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia’s mountain capital, and became interested in music from a young age.
After producing his first amateur record at age 13, he studied at the prestigious Colombian university Pontificia Universidad Javeriana and the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston.
His first two albums, Fonseca and Corazón, earned Fonesca national and international fame by blending modern Latin pop with traditional genres like vallenato, tambora, and more.
Since then, Fonseca has been nominated for one Grammy and sixteen Latin Grammys, of which he has won five.
Maluma is one of the youngest entries on this list, being just 28 years old, but if his collaborations with Shakira, the Weeknd, and Madonna are any indication, he’s a force to be reckoned with.
Maluma was born Juan Luis Londoño Arias and grew up in Retiro, a town in central Colombia. After being discovered at the age of fifteen, Maluma was signed by Sony Music Colombia and quickly produced several hit tracks, including the breakthrough album Pretty Boy, Dirty Boy.
If you had any doubt about Maluma’s international success, all you need is one look at his lengthy list of awards, which stands at 272 nominations and 66 wins – all in ten years!
Given Maluma’s young age, I’m sure we’re going to see quite a few more awards in the years to come.
7. Manuel Turizo
The youngest artist on this list is Manuel Turizo, who will turn 22 in just under two months. In his short career, however, Turizo has already made quite the name for himself as a musician with influences from pop, trap, vallenato, and R&B.
Born and raised in Montería, a town on the eastern end of Colombia’s Caribbean coast, Turizo has achieved acclaim throughout Latin America for his “Una Lady Como Tú,” which was released when he was just sixteen years old and which has accrued over 200 million listens on Spotify.
His 2021 album Dopamina smashed that record, however, in less than a year, Turizo’s “Quiereme Mientras Se Pueda” has received 265 million listens.
8. Karol G
Karol G is one of the superstars of the reggaeton genre and is especially noteworthy as one of the strongest female voices in the genre.
Karol G was born Carolina Giraldo Navarro in Medellin, Colombia, and first earned fame when she appeared on the Colombian version of the musical competition program X-Factor.
She broke into the mainstream, however, nearly ten years later, when she released “Ahora Me Llama” in collaboration with Latin pop superstar Bad Bunny.
Her career has soared higher since then, with hit releases including 2019’s Ocean and 2021’s KG0516. If her collaborations with Daddy Yankee and Nicki Minaj are any indication, Karol G won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
9. Kali Uchis
Kali Uchis is the first entry on this list who wasn’t born in Colombia, but she’s no less connected with Colombian music.
She was born Karly-Marina Loaiza in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C., to a Colombian father.
After spending her childhood enmeshed in both U.S. and Colombian culture, Uchis rose to prominence with an appearance on Gorillaz’s 2015 album Humanz and her 2018 solo project Isolation.
Her first Spanish-language album, Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios) – its name inspired by the name of one of the last novels by immortalized Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez – was a smash hit, earning critical success and placing on both Variety and The Los Angeles Times’ best-of 2020 lists.
10. Sebastian Yatra
Another artist with a mixed Colombian and U.S. upbringing, Sebastian Yatra is a young singer who has achieved success with his syncretic songs, which meld traditional ballad lyrics with contemporary reggaeton styles.
Yatra was born in the Colombian capital of Medellin but moved to Miami, Florida as a child. He became interested in music at a young age, incorporating the influences of Juanes, J Balvin, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Vives – the latter of whom he would collaborate within 2017.
His breakout track was “Traicionera,” a song that combined elements of trap, reggaeton, and electronic dance music.
Since then, he has gone on to collaborate with a number of internationally acclaimed musicians, including Daddy Yankee, Juanes, and the Jonas Brothers.
Most recently, Yatra has achieved meteoric success as the performer of “Dos Oruguitas,” from Disney’s Colombian-inspired Encanto netting him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song.
11. Andrés Cepeda
Andrés Cepeda is one of the older entries on this list, but he ranks among the most talented. Born and raised in Bogotá, Cepeda first became involved in professional music with the Latin rock band Poligamia, with whom he worked for five years.
Subsequently, he released his first solo album, Sé Morir, in 1999 and began experimenting with genres including bolero and Colombian ballads.
He achieved broader success in the mid-2000s with his 2006 album Para Amarte Mejor and the 2009 Día Tras Día, which earned a combined four Latin Grammy nominations.
In 2012, Cepeda moved into the realm of television, taking a spot as a coach on Colombia’s version of The Voice, and in the same year, he received four Latin Grammy nominations and one win for his album Lo Mejor Que Hay En Mi Vida.
12. Alejo Durán
Alejo Durán is no longer with us, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t include him on this list.
Durán, a composer, singer, and accordionist in the costeño genre of vallenato, is a legend in Colombian music.
Born in the northeastern city of El Paso, Durán won the first-ever iteration of the Vallenato Legend Festival, one of Colombia’s most important musical festivals.
He performed widely between the 1960s and 1980s. Since his death, his timeless vallenato songs have been covered by artists including fellow listmaker Carlos Vives.
13. Andrés Cabas
The final entry on this list is Andrés Cabas, a Colombian musician with heavy Caribbean influences.
Cabas, born Andrés Mauricio Cabas Rosales, was raised in the coastal city of Barranquilla, whose combination of Colombian traditionalism and Caribbean influence shaped his music profoundly.
Cabas released his first album at the age of 24 and achieved fame throughout Latin America and beyond – in fact when the album was released in the U.S. in 2003, it placed on the New York Times’ best-of-the-year list.
Since then, Cabas has continued to release hits, including pop collaborations with Shakira, Miguel Bose, Lenny Kravitz, and the Black-Eyed Peas, as well as children’s albums–one of which, Pombo Musical, won a Latin Grammy.
Summing Up Our List Of Great Colombian Singers
As you can see, there are more Colombian superstar singers than you can shake a stick at!
Each of these artists has an incredibly diverse catalog, so it’s worth it to take time to experience each and everyone – we hope you like what you find!