Sebastián Yatra was an aspiring singer living in Pembroke Pines and attending the Sagemont School in Weston during the Jonas Brothers’ heyday. While the three siblings were racking up hit songs and performing in front of screeching teens all over the world, Yatra was taking private singing lessons after school in Kendall and Fort Lauderdale. In 2013, the Jonas Brothers announced their split, and Yatra released his first hit single, "El Psicologo."
Six years later, the Jonas Brothers have reunited, and the Colombian-born Yatra has become one of the rising stars of Latin music. Now the two acts have collaborated on the Spanglish track, "Runaway," alongside Daddy Yankee and Natti Natasha. The song — which they all performed live at the Jonas Brothers' reunion concert at the American Airlines Arena earlier this month — is Yatra's introduction to the American market.
“Joe Jonas recorded it a year ago,” Yatra says. “It was a godsend that [the Jonas Brothers] got back together and we had this song with Daddy Yankee and Natti Natasha. It was like, 'Joe is still on for the track, but let’s do the Jonas Brothers.’ What? Yes, sir.”
The 24-year-old singer-songwriter will return to the American Airlines Arena stage August 30 for Spotify’s ¡Viva Latino! Live concert, which will also include performances by Bad Bunny, Nicky Jam, Sech, and Rosalía.
Yatra and his family no longer live in South Florida, but he still has deep ties to the region. The singer moved from Colombia to South Florida with his immediate and extended family in 2000, when he was five years old. He says the transition wasn't difficult because his family already had a home in the area. “It was easy for us to adapt,” he says. “It was like instead of going on vacation there, let’s go live there.”
But Yatra's father stayed behind in Colombia to work in real estate. “It was a big sacrifice,” Yatra says. “Since my dad stayed working in Colombia, [my parents] had a long-distance relationship for like 12 years.”
Yatra initially attended American Heritage School in Plantation and played club soccer for the Weston Fury. He also dabbled in theater, which is where he discovered his love of music. As the story goes, Yatra tried out for his school's production of High School Musical in sixth grade to meet girls. He wound up landing the lead role popularized by Zac Efron and discovering his passion for music in the process. From there, he tried out for plays around town, but his interest waned in favor of singing and songwriting.
Soccer, on the other hand, proved to be harder to give up. Yatra played central defensive midfielder for his high-school team under then-coach Jose Tamayo. Tamayo says it was evident even back then that Yatra had another calling, and the coach wasn't about to get in his way.
“During Sebastián's sophomore year, his mother approached me with the news that he would be groomed into a new career, one which did conflict with his love and passion for soccer,” recalls Tamayo, now executive and technical director of the youth soccer club FUTSOC. “We agreed that Sebastián would attend singing lessons once weekly at the outset. In this manner, he could attend other weekly soccer practices and matches. Gradually, the lessons took place twice weekly, restricting his training somewhat but allowing his gameplay.”
Yatra was so serious about protecting his vocal cords that Tamayo says he would go to practice with a scarf wrapped around his neck to keep it warm — never mind that practices took place under the hot South Florida sun. “A unique sight, to say the least," Tamayo recalls of the fashion choice, which earned Yatra the nickname "Buffy," as in bufanda (Spanish for "scarf").
"On bus rides to the games... he made those long rides his own showcase," Tamayo remembers. "As he progressed in his new career, he would sing in the bus and also played many of his initial tracks, which left us all in awe."
Yatra has gone from performing on those bus rides to performing with Halsey at the Latin Grammys in 2018 and with Argentine pop star and girlfriend Tini at Premios Juventud last month. (The two shared an onstage kiss during their first public appearance as a couple.) But Yatra says he wasn't always so comfortable in front of a crowd.
"Every day after school, I would go to private singing classes," he says. "I also took stage presence lessons in my garage. We turned my garage into a dance studio. I’m a bad dancer. When I started, I couldn’t put my head up toward the crowd because I was so shy. It wasn’t like acting in a play; I couldn’t hide behind a character. I had to put myself out there 100 percent.”
After graduating from the Sagemont School in 2012, Yatra attended Boston University to study business. But his time there was brief — his mind remained on music rather than books. He dropped out of school and moved back to Colombia.
“My goal was always to be a singer in Spanish," he says. "And I really wanted to understand where I come from and live it. A lot of times I went to Colombia and, even though I spoke Spanish and was always speaking Spanish with my parents, I still felt like an outsider. I wasn’t 100 percent part of it. I wanted to give my roots the importance they deserve.”
The move paid off. Yatra found himself and rose to stardom in Latin America, beginning with a pair of 2016 singles, "Traicionera," which reached number one in Colombia, and "Alguien Robó," which peaked at number two in his country. Yatra found success with reggaeton, which has spread well beyond Latin America in recent years. That's why it was surprising when he made his 2019 sophomore album, Fantasia, a collection of ballads.
Yatra didn’t see it as a risk. Instead, he calls it “the best decision I could have made.” He says that he realizes Spanish ballads aren’t exactly lighting up the charts and that he wants to do his part to bring them back.
Next up for the balladeer: He'll travel South America this fall on his Yatra Yatra Tour. He also has an English-language track in the works that he calls one of the best songs he’s written. So can fans expect an all-English album from Yatra?
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“Not anytime soon," he says. "I don’t know if I’ll ever do a mainly English album. If I do, it would be far off in the future.
He's also resisting the urge to move back to South Florida now that his career has taken off.
“I’ve been living in Bogotá the past couple years,” Yatra says, adding he’s rarely ever home because of his busy schedule. “But really, it’s like I’m not living anywhere.”
Spotify's ¡Viva Latino! Live. With Sebastián Yatra, Bad Bunny, Nicky Jam, Sech, and Rosalía. 8 p.m. Friday, August 30, at American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 786-777-1000; vivalatinolive.com. Tickets cost $49 to $169 via ticketmaster.com.