Drexler’s Dancing Mind

By: José Manuel Simián

In spite of winning an Oscar for the song he wrote for the Che Guevara biopic The Motorcycle Diaries, Jorge Drexler is relatively unknown in the states. A sad state of affairs, considering he’s one of the most gifted singer-songwriters to come out of Latin America in decades. And Bailar en la Cueva, the album he wrote around the idea of dancing and released earlier this year, may be his strongest yet, both musically and lyrically.

Drexler answered Manero’s phone call to talk about it from his home in Madrid.

What made you write an album inspired by the idea of dancing?

I normally write from the world of affections and ideas, but had never really written from movement. I wanted to write a record starting from the feet up. And it’s the most danceable of my albums, but not the most danceable album. The first five to six songs have a kick to them, but then it takes you somewhere else, and ends up in a quieter place.

But some people may think this is a dance music album, and it’s not.

I’ve always said that dancing is a very complex activity, one that involves more areas in our brain, and that it can be highly spiritual, as it is for the mystic Muslims Sufis. Movement is a complex thing that can serve to tell stories, the way I do in the song “Bolivia” [about the emigration of my family] for instance. This is important, because we Latinos are used to being pigeonholed in the stereotype of the dance-crazy Hispanic, and some of us react against that going in the complete opposite direction [by refusing to dance]. But what I wanted to say with this album was that dance and music have been with us since we became Homo sapiens, since we became a species. Even before we invented a structured language [with words], we had a musical language, a language in tones. And if there’s something I fight against, it’s the idea that the human being works in separate parts; I like the idea that we work as a whole—like a tuning fork.

One of the songs on the album is called “Todo Cae” (Everything Falls), and you previously recorded a song called “Todo Se Transforma” (“Everything Is Transformed”). One refers to the law of gravity, while the other hints at Lavoisier’s law of conservation of mass. And you are a doctor. Can we expect a full album of science-inspired songs at some point?

As a composer, you don’t write about what you want, but about what you can. For a long time, I thought I had wasted my time by studying medicine, but I’ve realized that one of the things that defined me as a composer, what gives me a unique language, is including something that was close to me in the songs. I’ve always been fascinated by science and neurophysiology, always lived the scientific disciplines from the perspective of fascination against the immensity. What I get from science is not far from what others get from religion. “Todo Cae” sounds like a fatalist title, but the song is actually about the exception to that fall. Just as life tends towards entropy, life is also a capricious, inexplicable order that goes against the current... Think about the fact that for 80 years, millions of molecules find some sort of understanding to give shape to an organism which, on top of that, has consciousness.

LOGISTICS: Bailar en la Cueva by Jorge Drexler, available now

José Manuel Simián is the Executive Editor of Manero. He used to be a lawyer and is probably listening to Bob Dylan as you read this.