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Jorge Drexler's 'Tinta y Tiempo' navigates connection during social isolation

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Close contact - something doctors experience. What about musicians? Jorge Drexler, the otolaryngologist-turned-musician, just might know.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOCARTE")

JORGE DREXLER: (Singing in Spanish).

SIMON: He's been writing and performing songs for more than 30 years, with seven Latin Grammys and one Academy Award to his name. And his latest album, "Tinta Y Tiempo" navigates the complexities of touch and connection after so much time of social isolation. Jorge Drexler joins us now from his home in Madrid. Thanks so much for being with us.

DREXLER: Hi, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine. Thank you. The name of your album translates to "Ink And Time," which suggests, of course, both permanence...

DREXLER: Yeah.

SIMON: ...And impermanence. What's behind the title?

DREXLER: "Tinta Y Tiempo," "Ink And Time," was actually the narrative of a very difficult year for writing for me. It's the chronicle of a creative crisis, actually, you know? Just let the ink and the time do the job. Don't get impatient. Don't lose the hope - because I - for many months, I actually lost the hope of getting, you know, the songs that I needed for a record. And I found later that it had to be with the isolation of the pandemic. I would write a lot, but I wouldn't finish songs, you know, and - because I needed that last contact.

(SOUNDBITE OF JORGE DREXLER SONG, "EL PLAN MAESTRO")

SIMON: Let me ask you about the opening track, which is a jazzy and often percussive spoken-word piece. It's called "El Plan Maestro," "The Master Plan."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL PLAN MAESTRO")

DREXLER: (Singing in Spanish).

SIMON: I've been looking for a master plan. Tell me.

DREXLER: I have this cousin of mine, which - we grew up together in Uruguay. Then she had to emigrate to Venezuela because of the dictatorship. And we grew up separated, although we were best friends when we were children. And we got together after many years just to realize that we had the same tastes, you know? We continued the same pursuits and searches in our lives.

She's a scientist. She's an astrophysicist. And I usually call her for advice and for inspiration. She has this poetic view of physics and the universe. And she told me, you know, Jorge, what's amazing? It's that love wasn't always there. It was invented by nature, and that invention actually turned out to be a really useful one. From an evolutionary point of view, it was a very good plan. It was a master plan, actually.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL PLAN MAESTRO")

DREXLER: (Singing in Spanish).

SIMON: Wow. So love is the master plan.

DREXLER: Yeah. I mean, one of them.

SIMON: Let me ask you about the track "Cinturon Blanco," "White Belt."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CINTURON BLANCO")

DREXLER: (Singing in Spanish).

SIMON: To start me and you from zero, like so long ago, until we get once again our white belts. White belts - meaning innocence or what?

DREXLER: Yeah. At some point - also, beginners. It's a song about trying to be a beginner in things. It started as a song about songwriting, the kind of songs I like very much, those meta songs that talk about songwriting. But it ended up being more a song about relationships and long-term relationships, like an homage to another song with the same subject called "Just Like Starting Over" by John Lennon - his last release. You know, I was always grateful to Lennon. He wrote how to face the crisis of being 40. And I was always trying to think, what would it have been, you know? It would have been so great to have him talking about the 50s crisis, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CINTURON BLANCO")

DREXLER: (Singing in Spanish).

And the record is actually full of that image, you know, rebirthing and re - seeing things with new eyes. And (speaking Spanish). And, you know, like, starting things from the beginning. And I think it might have to do with that feeling of something died in the pandemic, actually, inside of us. And we were trying to bring it back to life. And, you know, it was a social death which helped us look at life and relationships in a new way.

SIMON: That's beautifully said. Let me ask you about - it sounds like a lot of fun with Noga Erez, the Israeli singer. The title - "¡Oh, Algoritmo!" - "Oh, Algorithm."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "¡OH, ALGORITMO!")

DREXLER: (Singing in Spanish).

NOGA EREZ: (Singing) Wait. What's that money that you spent? What’s that sitting on your plate?

DREXLER: You know, the verse says, who wants me to want what I believe that I want? It's based in a book I read by Yuval Noah Harari, the Israeli thinker, questioning the concept of free will by the very recent findings in neuroscience that made us get to the conclusion that maybe you take the decision before you get to a rational level. I mean, you don't really decide.

SIMON: And we just used what we think of as our power of reasoning to reach the conclusion that was already there.

DREXLER: It's a devastating concept, which I don't really want to think too much about it because it fills me with fear because it questions lots of the very important things that I love the most, like democracy.

(SOUNDBITE OF JORGE DREXLER AND NOGA EREZ SONG, "¡OH, ALGORITMO!")

SIMON: I have to ask - and I assume you've dealt with this question for years - how do you go from being an otolaryngologist to a musician?

DREXLER: You know, I started studying music when I was 5 years old, and I started studying medicine when I was 18. I never interrupted studying music. Just, you know, at some point of my life, medicine came in and then came out of my life 10 years later. I'm the oldest son of two otolaryngologists, otorhinolaryngologists like my mother and my father. I thought I would do both, so I released my first two records paid working as a doctor. But then when I had the chance, I moved to Spain and realized that I didn't - I love medicine. It's an amazing vocation, an amazing career. But I love music more. I'm a very lucky person. I have many things that I love in my life.

(SOUNDBITE OF JORGE DREXLER SONG, "DUERMEVELA")

SIMON: Jorge Drexler - his new album, "Tinta Y Tiempo" - thanks so much for being with us.

DREXLER: OK, Scott. Ciao.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DUERMEVELA")

DREXLER: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.