Jorge Drexler will never be a huge Latin pop star. Then again, the 53-year-old actor, doctor, musician, songwriter, and Grammy and Oscar winner has a list of accomplishments some of his flashier contemporaries never will possess. That list also includes a good sense of humor.
“I’ve always been a lousy record seller," he quips. "I still am, but now so is everybody, so I’m not original.”
This Renaissance man resides in Spain but is originally from Uruguay. However, his story begins almost 70 years ago. His father was a German Jew who fled his native land in 1939. Before eventually settling in Uruguay, Drexler’s father fled to Bolivia, the only South American nation accepting Jewish immigrants at that time.
His father went on to write several books about his experiences, but some lessons were reserved solely for the younger Drexler.
“I was taught, when I was a young boy, many lessons of tolerance and against discrimination," he recalls. "We were fans of a football club in Uruguay, and he heard me one day speaking bad of another team from Argentina. We were planning to go and make noise at the hotel of the football players. He stopped me and he said, ‘This is how very bad things begin.’ So I got this lesson very, very early.”
It was then, around the age of 10, that Drexler became one of the more polite sports fans in all of fandom, and his gentle thoughtfulness was developed. It is evident not only on his latest record, Salvavidas de Hielo, but also in all his work such as "Al Otro Lado del Río" from the film The Motorcycle Diaries, which earned him an Academy Award in 2004.
Of all his achievements, Drexler says he’s proudest of blowing up his entire life.
“You know, I had my life all set up in Uruguay when I was 30 years old. I left it all behind. I’m the son of two EMT surgeons. I was very well situated in Uruguay [as a doctor]. I had my own clinic at 30. I was working with my parents in the very specialized area of EMT. I love it, but I left it all behind to move to Spain to share a flat with five people and start from scratch making a living in music.
“I didn’t see it as a brave move at that moment. I was so happy, I was so thrilled, that I didn’t realize that I was risking a lot. It came out well, but it could’ve gone another way. I’m pretty proud of that.”
Drexler believes there are certain advantages to starting a music career later in life. For one, he says, “It makes you more careful.” Certainly, he is very particular in a number of areas: with how he handles his fame by keeping his family out of the limelight or with the words he selects both in interviews and for his records.
For example, the title of the new album, Salvavidas de Hielo (Lifesavers of Ice), is a clever metaphor for the impermanence of so many things in life. Drexler says it is “an ode to the ephemeral — things that are important but short.”
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This album, his 13th, is incredibly tender and welcoming. Drexler is quick to point out he did not want it to rely on the slickness of studio production. Ultimately, all 11 songs are made solely with guitar sounds, including the percussion. Between the sweet vocals of Drexler, who dives deep into topics such as immigration (“Movimiento”) and modern technology (“Telefonia”), and featured guests such as Julieta Venegas and Natalia Laforcade, Salvavidas de Hielo is a sublime work of art.
Both in his music and in his celebrated TED talks, Drexler shares the idea that the migration of people and, consequently, ideas keeps us connected and that it is a good thing. When it comes to politicians and world leaders building both figurative and literal walls to separate the world’s citizens, Drexler has a simple message:
“I think they are going against the flux of history, the main vector of history. We should realize, more and more, each time that the problems that we face now, the most important problems, can’t be solved as separate nations. They are not national problems; they are not ethnical problems. They are problems that are shared by the whole of humanity and the whole biosphere — all the living things.”