Revamping the Trova

Ask most respectable Latin American hipsters under the age of 35 what they think of the trova and they'll: (A) tease that you're a Sandalista — a postrevolutionary Birkenstock-clad volunteer bound for a nongovernmental organization in a small Andean village; or (B) offer you a snide reenactment of a sensitive pony-tailed guy strumming his guitar on the street corner like a lovestruck Romeo.

But sarcasm didn't stop Universal Latino from agreeing to sign 32-year-old Venezuelan pop troubadour Jeremías the moment he auditioned in a hotel lobby in 2005. And rightly so. Jeremías's voice is that of a sexier, finer-tuned version of Silvio Rodríguez for a post-Cold War generation that couldn't give two hoots about politics but is as interested as youth from any era in understanding the human condition as it pertains to love, loss, and temptation.

"What made me passionate about the trova was that internal revision of your surroundings — a sung diagnosis," reflects Jeremías, born Carlos Eduardo López Ávila, during a phone interview. "I was never really passionate about political issues, but I was about that attitude of wanting to say things that push the boundaries."

Jeremías's retro tropi-trova style encompasses almost the entire canon of lyrically driven musicians from the Sixties through the Eighties, including Spanish folk-rock artists Joan Manuel Serrat and Joaquín Sabina, Panamanian salsa king Rubén Blades, and his Puerto Rican counterpart, Willie Colon.

"I just let the music take me where it feels like it wants to go," Jeremías says of his unique but familiar sound. "For example, the song 'Solo Sé Que No Sé Nada' is flamenco fused with a progression of bossa nova and then some old-school Doors." Meanwhile, the first single, "Uno y Uno Es Igual a Tres," contains a strumming pattern that's somewhere between flamenco and the Venezuelan cuatro, he adds.

What keeps Jeremías's music from getting stuck under a lonely street-corner lamp post is the heavy influence of Eighties rock, which he attributes to his fascination with the Police and Genesis, as well as older influences like the Beatles and Led Zeppelin.

And with well-tailored lyrics that delve into the human experience, he certainly picked up on the insatiable desire to verbalize one's ponderings and emotions.

"I have a strong need to exorcise certain concerns," Jeremías says, adding that he once put music on the back burner to study literature and psychology at the university.

At first Jeremías's songwriting was a hobby, used mostly for scoring chicas and making dough. But little by little, he found himself turning the side project into a career, creating his own music label, Avila Records, in 2000 and releasing his first album in Latin America and Spain in 2004. As Universal Latino noted, that album "served as an excellent letter of presentation."

The tropical pop CD had a number of radio hits, including "Desde el Bar," "La Cita," and " Poco a Poco," a single that was chosen as the theme song for the telenovela Mi Gorda Bella. That was enough to make Jeremías think more seriously about taking center stage.

"I started to realize that I was going to miss part of the creative experience if I was always composing for others," he says. "You're commissioned to write a song with a certain profile in mind, but I wanted to sing and throw ideas out there."

In the end, the formal literature and psychology studies probably enhanced his innate songwriting ability, as did spending two years as his psychologist father's assistant, reading nearly every theory book on the office shelves.

"The best way I can use that information now is in my songs," Jeremías says.

For example, he borrows from readings on existentialism in the song "Yo Sóle Sé Que Solo No Se Nada" ("The Only Thing I Know Is That I Don't Know Anything") when he declares he's constantly distracted by the absence of his lover, passing the time trying to remember what she did when she was around and reconsidering what he originally thought were her defects.

And he likes to take the bull by the horns by addressing romantic taboos such as infidelity.

"I think one of the reasons I sing about things like infidelity is because I want to confront my demons as honestly as possible," Jeremías says, referencing "Uno y Uno Es Igual a Tres" ("One and One Is the Same as Three"), a spicy pop-rock ballad that examines how a man deviates from his partner when things become too routine.

The video depicts a woman breaking the windshield of a car in which she discovers her boyfriend passionately embracing another lover. From the back seat, Jeremías offers a "What can you do?" look as he narrates the story. Relieved of her anger, the victim of infidelity smiles and swivels a hip toward the troubadour, who winks coyly in her direction.

"I think that as soon as we acknowledge our vulnerability to fall into temptation, those very problems begin to disappear and the other side of you wants to strengthen and evolve," Jeremías declares.

In true troubadour fashion, Jeremías makes music that is conscientious but unapologetic, manifesting a certain strength in his ability to admit his weaknesses.

"I've always been interested in the great paradox of humanity's fear of mistakes," he concludes.

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Julienne Gage is a Miami-based anthropologist and journalist who has worked as a reporter and as a civil rights and international aid communications specialist in the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe. Her fieldwork has exposed her to many forms of cultural expression, and during her master’s in anthropology, she studied at Cuba’s Center for the Investigation and Development of Cuban Music.
Contact: Julienne Gage