This week’s edition of Latin Connection, Billboard’s weekly Latin podcast, includes an exclusive conversation with Draco Rosa. The Puerto Rican singer/songwriter was preparing for two back-to-back shows in Puerto Rico, titled The Sacred and The Damned after last year’s U.S. tour. The performances celebrate Rosa’s life after cancer and the 21st anniversary of his 1996 album, Vagabundo.
Here are some highlights:
When Robi Draco Rosa released his landmark album, Vagabundo, 21 years ago, there was talk of dropping him from his label. The album, dark and atmospheric, was unlike anything out there in the Latin realm at the time.
“No one understood it, no one wanted it. I was broken hearted,” says the Puerto Rican singer/songwriter. Then, he recalls, at a Sony meeting, “someone stood up and said it reminded them of [David Bowie’s] Ziggy Stardust. They said, ‘This is an important album.’”
Even so, it wasn’t easy. When Rosa originally went out to promote Vagabundo in all its sometimes weird bleakness, “A lot of promo was cancelled.” And, Rosa admits to having being “difficult” himself. But time proved Rosa right. This year, Vagaundo celebrates 21 years as one of Latin music’s landmark recordings, and its author is marking the moment with two concerts at Puerto Rico’s coliseum, September 1 and 2, titled Lo Sagrado (The Sacred) and Lo Maldito (The Damned).
The shows are a celebration of Vagabundo, but they are also a celebration of life itself as Rosa continues to live cancer free after two punishing bouts with the disease. “I’ve been sad, and I’ve been broken,” he says. “I’m still on medication, fear creeps on me every once in a while. What I try to do every night is start fresh so I can start my day with love and gratitude. I do this every day as an exercise to try and keep my head straight, so when you run into me I won’t be a headache and I can be of service. My life has changed radically.”
“The Damned” on Sept. 2 will be a top-to-bottom reading of Vagabundo, in which Rosa stays as faithful as possible to the original recording.
Tonight’s show, “The Sacred,” will recap Rosa’s more romantic side, yet nevertheless begins with “Blanca mujer,” a song from Vagabundo that’s meant to be a conversation with death. It ends, however, with “Quiero vivir,” a yet not officially released track that, as its title suggests, is life-affirming, with some of the lyrics coming from the poems of the late Mexican poet Jaime Sabines.
“That song to me is just wonderful,” says Rosa. “If I had to tell you where I’m at today, I’m there.”
Listen to the full interview here: