Among the audience at Jorge Drexler’s New York concert were Elvis Costello, Rubén Blades and David Byrne. The Uruguayan singer-songwriter admits his production is inspired by American Utopia, the show that Byrne, a world pop reference of the last 40 years, toured the world with a few years ago, and spoke to him after the concert about that. “I said to him, ‘I hope you notice that American Utopia was a reference, but I hope you don’t notice too much,’ he recalls, laughing, ‘because there are so many things that go together: minimalism the stage design, the floor and the white panorama…” Isn’t that also consistent with Rosalía’s stage design? “You told me. My answer is: With all my love for Queen Máxima, because she is my heroine and I adore her: we opened four months earlier”, and again a Drexler laughs, elegant and talkative, who receives the press in the Madrid offices of his record company SonyMusic. That was the same show with the same musicians that he is presenting tonight at the Wizink Center in Madrid. “Now it’s a tour that had about 50 shows with a very experienced band. It’s my city, Madrid. It’s the most important concert I’ve given in my life in Spain and it’s the celebration of an album that I really enjoy.”
The album is called Tinta y Tiempo and among the joys it has given him is that he swept the Latin Grammys in November. He picked up a wheelbarrow full of statuettes, one of those he’s been collecting since 2018, to the point that not even he knows exactly how many there are. “Thirteen? Fourteen? Adventures. “I don’t remember. I would have to count them.”
Jorge Drexler poses with the statuettes he won at the last edition of the Latin Grammys STEVE MARCUS (Portal)
Jorge Drexler’s professional career is very peculiar. Raised in Uruguay, he moved to Madrid in 1995 at the age of 30. Here he earns his living, either with his own records and touring or as a composer for others for two decades, but it is only at 50 that he begins to become what he is today, a star. It has grown exponentially in the industry with Dance in the Cave (2014), Ice Lifeguard (2017) and Ink and Time. He doesn’t quite agree with that: “Winning Latin Grammys doesn’t make you a star,” he qualifies.
Ok, let’s take another example: Eight years ago I wouldn’t have played in a place as big as Wizink. A sports palace with a capacity for 17,000 people. “No, I wouldn’t have. But why lie, we won’t fill it this time either,” he says between laughs. “It is okay like this. For a few years now, this type of stage in America has been packed. But here in Spain, no. Every country has its own rhythm. It does not matter. Look: “star” has the same root as “crash”. Just as “Success” has the same root as “Exit” and “Death” in English. Life keeps me from being a star or believing in success.”
Then we come to another side, which is even rarer than later successes: At the age of 58, when most musicians live from nostalgia, Drexler has opened up to new styles. To urban music, to reggaeton, to dancing. “I agree: this is an age when one usually sets sail and is tied up, and I am completely unbound. And every time more. Always willing to experiment. The best thing the awards can do for you is to gain freedom and not lose it. What can happen. You start looking at your navel, thinking that nobody can teach you anything. If they gave me all these accolades in an unusual, unexpected, and over the top way, I can use them to ask for cooperation from the people furthest away from me who will take the call for now and see what’s happening . The prizes are for me to get to know other countries and other music. And to have the feeling that at this age I can still break new ground for myself.”
This freedom has worked brilliantly both ways. Consider the case of his friendship with C. Tangana. Together they composed Nominao, which appeared on Tangana’s triumphant album El Madrileño, and Tocarte, which is included on Tinta y Tiempo, the Latin Grammys’ Best Song of 2022.
The relationship between the two doesn’t stop there. His eldest son Pablo, who released a very interesting first album under the pseudonym pablopablo in 2022, is a fundamental part of the huge group participating in Tangana’s world tour, just as he was in the production of Tocarte. “We did it between Pucho, Pablo, Víctor [Martínez, mano derecha en lo musical de Tangana] and me. Wait, I’ll show you a video,” he says. And he’s checking his phone for a video of the song being recorded in a room in his house. “Look, there were four of us. We start work at three in the afternoon. It’s eleven o’clock here or something and we’re already very, very broken. But we did. See how it sounds? It’s exactly the same as the final version.” Now it’s easy to see that the song had all kinds of acclaim, but it wasn’t always like that, not even for him. “It seemed like such a crazy union at first… The first people, friends of my generation, that I showed Touching You to said to me, ‘But what is it? What are you doing?”. But I had a lot of faith in the end.”
Drexler in the first concert of the 2023 tour in Ferrol. Kiko Delgado (EFE)
He has confidence and a reputation for being a good combination. If he were to win an Oscar for best song now, as he did in 2005 with Al otro lado del río, the song he composed for The Motorcycle Diaries, no one would tell him not to sing it at the ceremony because he “lacks the necessary fame”. Then it had to be interpreted by a wayward Antonio Banderas. Perhaps this award came too soon? “It’s never a good time to receive an award. That means they all come at the wrong time. If you wait for them too long, they will be late. If you don’t expect it, as happened to me, the first award in my life they gave me was an Oscar. So of course he was early. It was all so over the top that I felt unreal. I didn’t compare the prize to the one it was given to,” he recalls. And he is grateful not to be carried away by this success. “In the United States, an Oscar is synonymous with a title of nobility. All doors are open to you. So you start a career, get a loan, whatever you want… Or do a Latin crossover record and go live in Los Angeles and work with whatever producer I want. But I chose to stay in Spain and share what I was going through: separation while having children. The hardest thing that has ever happened to me. I was able to withstand the pressure from the team and the media and do what I wanted. And that’s when I realized that I would be doing what I wanted for a long time to come. And I’m very happy about that.”
That means he sacrificed a Miami mansion next to that of Julio Iglesias. “I have nothing against villas, let alone someone I admire like Julio Iglesias, but we have different visions of the world I think. I grew up in a country like Uruguay, where people didn’t make a living from music. If you had something to say, you did it despite losing money, not to get rich. And if they had nothing to say, why would you lose money for it? So you didn’t do it. So you went into the song with a base that seemed more important to me: the fear of saying something or saying something. That at the time of triumph operations do not happen. And by that I don’t just mean the program, but that triumph nowadays is an operation. Nowadays young people suddenly want to have a lot of followers or a lot of likes without knowing exactly why. In times like these, saying no becomes even more valuable. ‘No, I’m doing this because I have something to say.’ It’s not a means to an end that fame is, it’s an end in itself. In fact, fame is more of a side effect than an ending.”
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