“It actually comes from a phrase by Leonard Cohen saying a new scheme for the old ceremony, which is the name of the record, of your icons, and that’s the feeling. You might change the players, you might change the skin, but the ceremony is very old. It’s our duty to keep that alive.” — Jorge Drexler, 2022
For me, musician and composer Jorge Drexler is one of the most poetically insightful songwriters of our time. His new album, like most of his music, is thought-provoking. When I first listened to Tinta y Tiempo, I considered each song on its own as well as together with all the others. Some songs are nostalgic nods to balladry while others tinge with Latin pop rhythms. And very quickly there were noticeable constants—themes of love and hope.
Jorge comes from a family of immigrants, refugees who fled the Holocaust and headed to Uruguay in 1939. Jorge’s father was four years old at the time when they settled in Montevideo.
Jorge’s music career began after, like many of his relatives, he studied medicine. He eventually dipped into music, recording a couple of albums that were only released in Uruguay, but he soon gained momentum in Spain. In 2004, Drexler was the first Uruguayan to win an Academy Award, which he won for composing “Al Otro Lado del Río,” featured in The Motorcycle Diaries.
The 10 tracks in Tinta y Tiempo chronicle growth as well as an understanding of love in all its dimensions. “Love is a big concept in Tinta y Tiempo,” I mentioned to Jorge when we connected via Zoom to talk about this much-anticipated full-length album—and what fans consider a nightmarish waiting time of five years.
It feels like the album has all kinds of answers, and insights, into queries of love, inspiring creativity, and the yearning for more. “Let’s keep our hearts hungry and thirsty,” Jorge said. And, excuse the cheesy reference, but just like Carrie Bradshaw when she goes into pondering mode on her laptop, I couldn’t help but wonder…
“Is love also hope?” I asked.
“Oh, you’re making beautiful but difficult questions,” he said, pausing before responding. “I think there’s a big difference between love and hope. I think love is an exercise in the present, of the present, and hope is a projection to the future. So I really think they work in different ways, now that you ask. You know, love is maybe the subject most sung about in the history of humankind, of our species. And it’s not a very original subject to write about, but you know originality, it doesn’t really matter that much for me. I put first emotion and then originality and besides that, I try to fill up from a very— from very different angles, apart from romantic love, which is the kind of love most sung about, especially romantic tragic love and romantic successful love (at the beginning).”
Jorge discusses the different expressions of love that exist in songwriting. For example, he mentions the first song on the album, El Plan Maestro, which features el maestro Rubén Blades. Jorge says the song is “about the origin of love… when love was born a billion years ago. All living beings used to, you know, travel alone in life and reproduce by themselves, just dividing alone. But someday, two very adventurous cells—in that water, floating—decided to get together and mix their genetic material, and there it was born. It (love) didn’t always exist—it might not always exist on this planet, but it does exist right now. And it’s a very important force over evolution, a very important force of change, a very important force of cohesion, and even a very proven strategy of survival.”
In 2018, when interviewed for Rolling Stone magazine, Jorge revealed his practice of a concept by Igor Stravinsky, who wrote that to be free, one must limit oneself.
In Poetics of Music, Stravinsky, an influential orchestra composer (among other things) wrote, “My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself of the chains that shackle the spirit.”
I ask Jorge if this concept still rings true for him, especially in light of working through a pandemic, and, if so, how it manifests itself in his new album.
“I think it actually changed a little bit through the pandemic,” he said. “We were so— We lived, before we knew it, we lived in a world of so many interactions, so many possibilities, so many elements. You could travel, and (interact with) people, colors, foods, landscapes, and then suddenly your whole world became like a little room in the window.”
He acknowledges the connections consequently made via devices, the internet, but reminds us that even though it’s a good connection, compared to human-to-human interaction, it’s much less. “So, you know, we didn’t need to restrain ourselves to limit ourselves—the situation did so on its own. I think it was quite the opposite,” he explained.
On Tinta y Tiempo there are equally emotive tracks like “Duermevela,” which is dedicated to Jorge’s mother. He had been working on the song for a few years but felt some type of way about making it public and kept it to himself for a while. “I didn’t feel the authority to sing it at that time, I don’t know why,” he explained. “I was a little shy singing that song.”
After Jorge’s mother passed, his older son, 24-year-old Pablo, who also produced the song, said to him, “You have this song that you loved very much. Where is it? It’s a beautiful song.”
They decided to work on the song together and then Jorge wrote the last part. He also includes his 13- and 11-year-olds. “They made the song all together, for their grandmother. They wanted to sing in it,” he said with pride.
I returned to the concept of love as a driving force and asked, “How does Jorge Drexler live in that (driving force) in this ongoing climate of fear and hate and greed and war?”
“I have one song that answers that directly,” he said.
And you will have to listen to the full interview (beginning at 1:04:15) if you want that answer and so much more.
Jorge’s new album, Tinta y Tiempo, is available on all major platforms. Follow him here.