In a musical age when so many listeners flip at a moment’s notice from artist to artist, Jorge Drexler wanted to make an album of depth — with no other instruments but guitars.
Uruguay’s most successful musical export, who has won an Oscar and been nominated for five Grammys, sold only 33 copies of his first album, which he distributed on cassette.
But the 53-year-old — who gave up an early career as an ear, nose and throat doctor to make music in Madrid — proudly acknowledges that “life has been very generous to me” as he embarks on a 28-city world tour that includes a stop at New York’s celebrated Beacon Theatre on Saturday.
“Salvavidas de Hielo” (“Life-Jackets of Ice”), his 16th full-length album and the latest to be nominated at the Grammys for the best Latin rock album, explores the ephemeral — the wonders of communication, the need for silence and the magic of music.
“I wanted to dig deep into one thing and for that reason the album has no instruments other than guitars,” Drexler told AFP at his hotel near Central Park.
Yet there is percussion — performed by five musicians who hit the bodies of guitars.
“It’s my most capricious album,” he said, but added: “It’s not an exercise in musical asceticism.”
“It’s one of the most loaded albums I’ve ever made, with many layers of sound.”
He also brings in prominent singers including Mexico’s Julieta Venegas and Natalia Lafourcade, as well as Chile’s Mon Laferte on the sensual “Asilo” (“Refuge”).
– Ode to migration –
The album opens with “Movimiento” (“Movement”), which is based on a TED talk he delivered last year in Vancouver that won widespread attention for his passionate defense of immigration in the face of US President Donald Trump.
“We are alive because we are in a movement,” sings Drexler, the son and grandson of Germans who fled the Nazis, the great-grandson of a Polish immigrant and himself an immigrant for more than 20 years in Spain.
While saying he is not interested in “the concept of a protest song,” the track carries an unambiguous message.
A video for “Movimiento” features champion runner Lorena Ramirez, a member of Mexico’s Raramuri indigenous people, as she crosses the vast Tarahumara mountains in traditional dress and plastic sandals.
“There aren’t many stories that people tell; there are only a few,” he said. “It seems that everything changes but we keep saying the same things.”
Drexler is perhaps best known for his protest of sorts when he won the Oscar in 2005 for Best Original Song for “Al Otro Lado Del Rio” (“The Other Side of the River”), which he wrote for the Che Guevara biopic “The Motorcycle Diaries.”
After the Oscars’ producers, ever concerned about television ratings, enlisted the better-known Antonio Banderas and Carlos Santana to perform the song during the awards, Drexler — who was handed his statuette by Prince — devoted his brief speech time to singing his song a cappella.