Jorge Drexler

 

Uruguayan songwriter Jorge Drexler sings his own story.

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By Jordan Levin

Songwriters write love songs all the time. But the title of Jorge Drexler’s latest album, Amar la Trama (Loving the Story) comes from an ode to a particular affection. In La Trama y El Desenlace (The Story and the Ending), Drexler sings adoringly about the act of composing and singing, so that the song becomes his mysterious, perfectly sympathetic companion. “Following and leading, giving and having. … Loving the story more than the ending.”

Such meta-musical erudition is a rarity in pop music (what other pop composer name checks avant-garde French filmmaker Eric Rohmer?). But Drexler, who plays the Fillmore Miami Beach on Saturday, has become one of the Latin music world’s most admired songwriters with his peculiarly absorbed vision.

“This whole record is about the present — the art of talking about the thing that’s going on in your head at the moment,” Drexler, 46, says from his home in Madrid. “There’s a quest to erase the differences between content and container. The song is the container, but it’s also the content. Because the song talks about the song.”

Drexler is happily unapologetic about his intellectual leanings: “You’re the one who asked a complicated question,” he says teasingly. “You deserve a complicated answer.”

“I don’t try to write about the things that I want to write about. I write about the things that I can.”

Drexler had a brief burst of mainstream U.S. fame in 2005, when his song Al Otro Lado del Rio (The Other Side of the River), from the film The Motorcycle Diaries, was the first Spanish-language song nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song, and the first non-English language composition to win. But his achievement became shadowed in controversy, when the stars Carlos Santana and Antonio Banderas were chosen to perform the song on the awards telecast, instead of him.

If his career since has proceeded largely out of sight of the U.S. media, he has become one of the Spanish-speaking world’s most-admired composers, racking up numerous awards and Grammy and Latin Grammy nominations and working with such celebrated artists as Shakira, Mercedes Sosa and Bajofondo Tango Club.

“He’s a songwriter’s songwriter,” says Jorge Villamizar, a successful pop composer and former leader of the Latin fusion group Los Bacilos. Villamizar was one of the many Miami composers who went to Drexler’s 2005 Miami concert debut, presented, as is Saturday’s show, by the Rhythm Foundation.

“He’s my favorite songwriter in Spanish of my generation,” Villamizar says. “He’s a very honest writer. He’s writing for the purpose of making great songs, not writing to be commercially successful. He’s a master.”

The son of a Jewish German immigrant whose family fled the Nazis for Uruguay, Drexler got a medical degree (as an ear, eye and throat specialist), before turning to music at 25. In 1995 he left Uruguay for Spain, encouraged by the great —also poetic and erudite — Spanish singer-songwriter Joaquin Sabina. He has been a contented exile in Madrid since.

“I am very melancholy, and I came to this city which has a lot of sun, where people have a natural tendency to express their happiness, a very irresponsible, happy, noisy city,” Drexler says. Trama is, in part, a tribute to Madrid. The first song, Tres Mil Millones de Latidos (Three Billion Beats), talks of walking through the city, feeling at home while passing through. “There are people who are from a place; that’s not my case. I’m from here, in passing.

“I can feel the presence of that spontaneous and reflexive happiness that Madrid brings to a melancholy Jewish Uruguayan,” Drexler jokes. But he also credits his outsider status, as an immigrant and a Jew, with inspiring his observation and music.

“I think there’s a background in Jewish culture … that leads you to connect to different languages, different cultures, different spiritual and material and emotional worlds,” he says. “We tend to integrate things since we’re moving so much.”

The year that Drexler won his Oscar, he also broke up with longtime girlfriend Ana Laan. He now has a new partner, Spanish singer and dancer Leonor Watling. And Trama has a lighter spirit — one that acknowledges the confounding, enthralling imperfection of life and music making.

“It’s a celebratory record that embraces and celebrates the present moment, including the melancholy of the present moment,” Drexler says. “I have that southern tango and milonga melancholy inside of me. I tried, and I couldn’t get it out, and now I’m not interested in getting it out.”

Instead, he’s enjoying wherever melancholy takes him.

“Even though there’s not a clear reason, let’s celebrate,” Drexler says. “Life might not get much better than this.”

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