Jorge Drexler, who kicks off his U.S. tour in Miami on Thursday (Feb. 8), stopped by Billboard’s New York offices earlier this week for an acoustic performance.
The first song of Drexler’s set was “Movimiento,” also the opening track of his Grammy-nominated album Salvavidas de Hielo. The song, typical of Drexler’s best compositions, is in a word transcendent, succinctly capturing the current moment while setting it within the continuum (and conundrum) of human experience. But then, anyone who is familiar with Drexler’s extraordinary talent for expressing the metaphysical through the mundane (and vice versa) would hardly expect him to write a simple song about the timely subject of immigration.
In an earlier interview in Barcelona, where Drexler and his band performed a sold-out two-and-a-half hour show at the Liceu opera house, he explained how “Movimiento” came about:
“For me, the most important part of writing is the subconscious. I don’t choose my subjects, I don’t make a list of things that I am going to write about. The year that I was writing this song was a year of free association. I got up in the morning and I didn’t know what I was going to write. I took my kids to school, I came home, and then I used all types of roulette to make something happen. I put on the radio and I listened to someone say a sentence: “In their new book so-and-so talks about migratory movements.” And I turned it off. I said to myself, of course, migratory movements. Migration. It’s a movement, a displacement, it is a synthetic act. I like to see immigrations from the point of view of this impulse to move.
“I wanted to put the idea of immigration within the context of the species,” he continues. “We all come from Africa, and not so long ago: [50,000 years ago] we were all in Africa. That’s a second in biological time. We’ve moved all over the planet since that time. Now we’re following that impulse of movement, of displacement. No one is ‘from here’ and ‘you’re not’. Because no one is ‘from here,’ especially in the Americas. It’s good to known that we all come from the same place. There are flagrant cases of well-known politicians whose families have been in a place for two generations and they’re angry [about immigration]. I couldn’t understand that. That is a short-sighted vision that harms other people.
“The way that I cure something that’s painful for me is to observe it, to find an angle, a perspective from which I can get inside it and find the beauty in it,” adds the Uruguayan artist, who lives in Madrid. “I always try to find the beauty in painful or difficult situations. In the case of ‘Movimiento,’ it was putting it in context. We are in a moment in which we’ve become very aware of immigration, in the United States and the Mediterranean above all. I wrote other songs about the subject of migration that didn’t make it onto the album. They didn’t have that poetic turn.”
Drexler began his Jan. 27 concert in Barcelona, which opened the 2018 Guitar BCN festival, with “Movimiento.” The extended version of the song, performed by the guitar and percussion-rich band that played joyfully together, rather than putting on a show, set a magnificent tone. While the audience knew the words to “Movimiento” and other songs from listening to the new album, The musician’s unexpected playing (a guitar used as a drum, hands rubbing together, bird calls), Drexler’s on-stage storytelling and interaction with the audience took them to another level.
The concert took place the night before the Grammys (Residente triumphed in the awkwardly defined Best Latin Rock Urban or Alternative Album category in which Drexler was nominated). While Drexler could not be in New York for that ceremony, he is no stranger to awards shows or awards, having started off his international career winning a 2005 Oscar for “Al Otro Lado del Rio,” from The Motorcycle Diaries (handed to him by Prince, no less). It seems particularly ridiculous now, seeing Drexler at the top of his game, that the Oscar show producers did not want him to perform his own song at the ceremony, dolling out that task to two more celebrated Spanish speakers, Antonio Banderas and Carlos Santana.
Drexler often mentions Leonard Cohen, citing his life lessons in elegance and beauty; and Caetano Veloso, whose songs, Drexler says, demonstrate that “he has a head, a body and a soul, he is a complete being.” Over the course of his career so far, Drexler has learned a lot from his masters, and obviously, from himself. Simply put, go see Drexler in concert.
Here are the dates.
Watch Jorge Drexler’s full Billboard Live performance below.