Jorge Drexler’s music bridges genres, generations and continents
At some point, he realized, “It’s not a burden. It is an identity.
On previous albums, Drexler has sung about mass migration and parallel universes. He opens “Tinta y Tiempo” with the painstakingly orchestrated “El Plan Maestro” (“The Master Plan”). The song contemplates the evolutionary moment when a single-celled organism got tired of dividing on its own and decided to share DNA with another cell: the start of sexual reproduction and, ultimately, love. The piece opens with a contrabassoon playing the lowest note of the orchestra and soaring upwards. “I wanted to have that feeling of the original magma where life was created,” Drexler said.
Midway through the song, Drexler is joined by one of his idols, Panamanian songwriter Rubén Blades; the beat changes to a Panamanian mejorana canto and Blades sings a decima – an age-old 10-line Spanish verse form as tightly structured as a sonnet – written by Drexler’s cousin, Alejandra Melfo, a physicist.
Drexler often builds albums around concepts. His 2014 “Bailar en la Cueva” (“Dancing in the Cave”) was born out of a stay in Colombia, absorbing regional styles and embracing dance rhythms. For his 2017 “Salvavidas de Hielo” (“Ice Life Jacket”), he traveled to Mexico, but ended up recording the entire album layering only his guitar and vocals, even in tapping percussion parts on the guitar. “Salvavidas de Hielo” won the Latin Grammy for singer-songwriter album of the year, and “Telefonía”, a song celebrating telecommunications – “Bless every wave, every cable / Bless the radiation of antennas” – was named disc and song of the year.
Where “Salvavidas de Hielo” was austere, “Tinta y Tiempo” is sumptuous and varied. It encompasses whimsical orchestral arrangements, nimble studio bands, international collaborators and computer wizardry.
After recording in Colombia and Mexico, Drexler had considered visiting another country to make his next album. But coronavirus lockdowns have sent him home in unexpected isolation. He had always thought that his career was divided between the poles of public performance and private, solitary and obsessive writing. But until the pandemic, he realized, he had gotten used to trying out his songs on family and friends, leaving his new tunes slightly unfinished to see what happened when he played them for others.
“I’m very lazy, so I got used to leaving 20% of the song unresolved,” he said. “Without that 20%, the songs faded after two or three days.”