Jorge Drexler: “Our generation has already lost the street, the bars and the dance floor”

Against all odds, won 7 Latin Grammys. “It practically seems that I ruined the party for many who were going to see others take the prizes,” she says in a low voice without pride. Jorge Drexler, who rose as the protagonist of a party to which he was not invited. In the midst of the hegemony of Latin music, with new totems of musical geopolitics such as Bad Bunny and Rosalía, it was the Uruguayan who took all the gold to his house. “The prizes have no logic. They vote human beings according to human reasons”, says the musician who, in fact, already collects awards that include golden gramophones and even an Oscar. “Having won awards before, you take the sting out of longing for them. Expectations are bad advisers. If you have them, it may happen that it does not happen and that generates frustration. Or that it does happen and that it leaves you a huge void. I am lucky to play down the prizes, because I know what it is like when a team is disappointed. All my life I was a lousy record seller and I feel sorry not for myself, but for my team.”he says wisely. You will find the reasons in “Ink and time”, an excellent work that presents in Madrid on January 28 at the WiZink Center in Madrid.

Still, he won seven Grammys…

It was crazy, something unusual. They chose an album of infinitely less media significance than the other nominees with whom she competed. Today we think that the Latin Grammys are the little brothers of the “Anglos”, but music in Spanish is heard more than in English and that is something that had not happened. You may or may not like reggaeton, but you cannot take away the merit of having made the Spanish language the language of song as Italian was before in the 18th century opera, German in the 19th century, and of course, English in the XX. And it will be again, English. But you compete in a league that has grown a lot. Everything seems very exaggerated and in a different proportion to the craft invoice of my project. I don’t have a media diffusion for something like this to happen.

The history of the album was one of great vicissitudes.

It was a very difficult album and I was the one who put up the most obstacles with the material. He was very insecure, as he had never been. It’s getting harder and harder for me to make records, really. I went through many phases. First I made a model even though I couldn’t see the way. Then we saw it, but I changed teams. In short, above all I appreciate it, because if the pandemic taught us anything, it is that the one who celebrates is right. Because if you leave it for later, the same is never. Celebrate now.

It’s a countercultural record. A lot of text, content, rested…

The prizes have no logic. It is an irrational instance. People vote humanely, with their phobias and philias and strategies. And I dedicate myself to a job whose fruit, the songs, are not quantifiable. Sales are the least interesting part of judging a song. People judge her by the emotional movement. Personal wonder. That’s why it’s good to remember that there isn’t one song better than another in abstract terms, but individual ones. And in times of intoxication you must maintain a sober drunkenness at all times. including success. In the failure, too. You have to maintain a point of sobriety because, if not, you are dragged in other directions.

How do you explain such overwhelming recognition?

To my surprise, the music academy likes music. I am not saying that mine is music and the rest are not, but that they choose based on musical criteria, because if not, it is not explained that they recognize a work like mine, without media coverage. And not much more to say. I am the first to categorize music by commercial success. If I didn’t listen to it, I would have missed the Beatles. If I only did, I would have missed Fernando Cabrera, my favorite composer. There is commercial music like Bad Bunny that seems great to me and other that doesn’t interest me. I am proud because the album was made with very marked personal and artistic dilemmas and the first thing was to solve them. Feeling like I could write songs again, something I wasn’t sure about. The fact of having finished it was already a lot. I don’t know why it’s getting harder and harder. Motivation is like muscle mass, it’s hard to maintain it after forty. Our profession is full of people who, quite rightly, when they reach a certain age, settle down in their country house or their vineyard or their surfboard and relax the tension of the creative discipline. It’s not my case. I would like to be relaxed, but I’m not. I really want to move on and learn from a musical era that I would be very comfortable just criticizing from the outside on a pedestal, but I have no interest, because it is fascinating.

What interests you?

I’ve been trying to understand the reggaeton phenomenon since its inception, because it’s fascinating. From the Barrio de la Perla in San Juan de Puerto Rico, where the reggae records in Spanish brought from Panama arrive, to Bad Bunny. Trying to understand what brought back the rhythmic pattern that ruled North Africa for hundreds of years (he imitates it vocally) and where the secret of the majori rhythm lies, which was known as the devil’s rhythm and still is. People censor reggaeton in almost religious terms, as everything has always been censored, like the zarabanda in the Golden Age. You don’t even have to go to tango, rumba or blues or flamenco, which were also marginal styles whose protagonists they just lived badly.

Would you dare to do a reggaeton?

I never got into music because of the genres. Neither yes nor no. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s having a producer do something on top of a song to make it sound like house or reggaeton or whatever. What interests me most about reggaeton is not working with a producer but the rhyme schemes, the thematic scope and the sexual energy it has. It’s not done by taking a song of mine and putting a beat under it. If it is done, it is by going to Santurce in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and working with some incredible musicians that are there and that I met. If you really want to do it, you have to start from writing. I like “El apagón”, by Bad Bunny, because it is made only with a drum and a text, and with a very well written “flow” from the ciborium. Everything must be done from writing.

So he was investigating.

I went to a concert and I was lucky enough to stay four or five days in San Juan to go around, go dancing, see musicians. See how reggaeton for them is like flamenco in Cádiz. It is his rhythm and he triumphs in the world. The pride that I saw is that it sounds all over the world, and that’s nice to see. From Athens to Prague. It happened in Uruguay with candombe and murga in the 80s, which flooded our country and the whole world celebrated identity with it. It is an identity rhythm and it also happens in Medellín.

However, later generations, almost without exception, demonize him.

There is a territorial phenomenon that leads to discrimination as bad as all the others. We are talking about a generation that loses territory in what matters to us, in the city: the streets and the bars are no longer theirs. There is a generation that lost the dance floor to reggaeton. And at that moment, you can only humbly try to understand what is new or, as is more often done, deny it. Deny validity and say the authentic clue was mine. There is no generation that stops saying “my music was good” and there is no generation that does not say “your music is shit”. One of the nice things about getting old is seeing that cycle happening. There is the discovery and the narcissism and then the loss of sexual hegemony in the city and the discrediting of what happens, while a new narcissistic generation emerges. Both generations are wrong. The one who denies that what is happening is valid and the one who thinks that hers is the first time it has happened and that it is the best phenomenon in the history of humanity. Well no. The egocentric is as bad as the neophobic and nostalgic generation. Neophobia is just as bad as racial or sexual identity discrimination. Because it is age discrimination. The “I don’t understand today’s youth” has been said since writing was invented. The earliest cuneiform tablets must have said something about “this youth…”. The funny thing is that we don’t learn it. We are blind to some discriminations.

I like how he describes the cycle of generations as a food chain and it reminds me of my favorite song on the album, “Amor al arte”, a song that starts with biology and ends by talking about art. As if the second were nothing more than a secretion of the first.

For me, there is a continuity between biology and artistic expression. It is important to understand that art does not come from above, but from below. From the cell, from the DNA, from the carbon atom combined with nitrogen and the seed. The function of art as the peacock’s tail is very interesting, because it is a discipline that hinders survival. Living in art is not a guarantee of escaping from trouble, just as the peacock cannot easily escape from its predator. But it gives you other roles in society. They are not detached from biology. I always liked linking both things because I was always ashamed of not being an artist from a young age who dedicates himself to that. I hid it. I hid the guitar when I went to the hospital ward because it was embarrassing to go there with it. Get by with it And he hid the robe when he went to bars because he had a medical profession. Luckily I lost all those embarrassments.

It gives to flex that culture is not considered respectable…

Well, both. Because saying that you studied otolaryngology in an artistic context… I still feel ashamed… It’s like the notary who became a singer-songwriter. But Kafka worked in an office and Borges was a librarian. I wish human talent was so predictable to say that if you lead a certain life, you generate a type of beauty. But, as Leonard Cohen said, “Nothing Works”. It is not a strategy. I had impostor syndrome until the last award I went up to collect at the Latin Grammy ceremony. That I had to ask the person who gave it to me if they were sure it was my name that appeared on the card…

We would like to say thanks to the author of this post for this incredible web content

Jorge Drexler: “Our generation has already lost the street, the bars and the dance floor”