DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
The last time we visited with singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler, he had just become the first person to win an Oscar for an original song written in Spanish.
(Soundbite of song, "Al Otro Lado Del Rio")
ELLIOTT: "Al Otro Lado Del Rio" was featured in "Motorcycle Diaries," the film about the young, pre-revolutionary Che Guevara. Like Che, Jorge Drexler was a doctor by training, and also like Che he chose to leave medicine behind, in this case for music. After his Oscar win, Jorge Drexler could have taken advantage of his new fame in American. Instead he turned inward, and the title of his new album, "Doce Segundos de Oscuridad" begins to tell that tale. We're lucky enough to have Jorge Drexler with us in Studio 4A. Welcome to the program.
Mr. JORGE DREXLER (Singer-Songwriter): Hi. How are you?
ELLIOTT: Good. How are you tonight?
Mr. DREXLER: Fine, thank you.
ELLIOTT: "Doce Segundos de Oscuridad" means 12 seconds of darkness. And I understand this was inspired by a lighthouse in the home of your youth, Uruguay.
Mr. DREXLER: Yes. It's a place called Cabo Polonio in the eastern coast of Uruguay, Atlantic coast. A very beautiful place and isolated that you can't get in a car there. You don't have electricity. And there's a lighthouse that gives a beam every 12 seconds. I went there to search for the songs for the record. I needed to isolate myself a little bit. Those had been like a very crazy year and a half. And under that cycle of light, one beam every 12 seconds, I started writing very good. And I found like the guiding metaphor for the record also in the lighthouse. I mean the lighthouse guides not only by the light that it gives but also by the period between two lights, which is darkness, actually.
ELLIOTT: Will you play a bit of the song for us?
Mr. DREXLER: Yes. And I have that sound I made for the lighthouse that goes all through the song.
ELLIOTT: You have a computer here with you, not only your guitar but a computer.
Mr. DREXLER: Yes. For only one sound, like this.
(Soundbite of song, "Doce Segundos de Oscuridad")
ELLIOTT: And that was Jorge Drexler performing "12 Seconds of Darkness" from his new album of the same name. One of your lyrics about the lighthouse, it's little use to the sailor who doesn't know how to wait. What did you mean by that?
Mr. DREXLER: That no matter how short that period of darkness is, you have to wait until the next light comes. If you're anxious, it's like you lose a very important part of the information.
ELLIOTT: After your Oscar spotlight, were you waiting on something before producing your next album?
Mr. DREXLER: Yes. I used to be - I like balance, you know. I used to be a very light-oriented person. And I need - I kind of felt that I was missing part of the information of life. I decided to look at what was going on, on the other side.
ELLIOTT: Well, the other song that we'd like for you to play for us today is "Soledad."
Mr. DREXLER: It's a folkloric song that - based on the folkloric region called Bawala(ph) from the north of Argentina, but it has also been heard and played in Uruguay, where I come from.
(Soundbite of song, "Soledad")
ELLIOTT: Loneliness who keeps me company. Me who never knew very well how to be alone. That was Jorge Drexler performing "Soledad" in NPR Studio 4A. You know, I don't speak Spanish but I have your translation here for this music. But even though the first time I heard it I wasn't looking at the translation and the melody is just so beautiful. And the way you sing the song...
Mr. DREXLER: Thank you.
ELLIOTT: ...it almost conveys the meaning without knowing what you're saying.
Mr. DREXLER: Thank you so much. I believe lyrics to be like real important inside of what I do. But it seems that they might be not that important; people get a lot of information without actually understand the meaning of the words.
ELLIOTT: You did choose to sing one song in English...
Mr. DREXLER: Yeah, I did.
ELLIOTT: ...on this album.
Mr. DREXLER: Yes. It's a version - it's milonga version of a song by Radiohead, "High and Dry." And every time that I do a version of something I turn into something familiar. You built a bridge between your identity and the other identity of the song.
ELLIOTT: And the milonga is?
Mr. DREXLER: Milonga's like...
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. DREXLER: It's kind of that kind of sound. I'm doing a version of Leonard Cohen right now with that. And I can sing you just a piece, because it sounds very folkloric.
(Soundbite of song "Dance Me to the End of Love")
Mr. DREXLER: (Singing) Dance me to the wedding with a burning violin. Dance me through the panic 'til I'm gathered safely in. Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove. Dance me to the end of love. Dance me to the end of love.
(Speaking) You know, I wouldn't find sense in just repeating a structure of a version. I try to bring it home, and I like to be open to that. I'm a mixture of so many things. I mean my four grandparents were born each of them in different places - one in Poland, one in Germany, one in the frontier with Brazil, one in the (unintelligible) coming from Spain. And I have a lot of things inside.
ELLIOTT: And when they ask you were are you from, how do you answer?
Mr. DREXLER: It happened the other day in a show and I answered in a...
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. DREXLER: I answered singing actually.
(Soundbite of song)
Mr. DREXLER: That means I don't know where I come from, my house is in the border. I guess my home might be my language, maybe it's Spanish. But I also have other homes, like the one that I'm staying at now. It's the English that I'm trying to speak and sing a little bit.
ELLIOTT: Jorge Drexler's new album is "Doce Segundos de Oscuridad." Thank you for joining us.
Mr. DREXLER: Thank you very much for having me here.
ELLIOTT: You know, we began our program this evening with coverage from Uruguay. President Bush is visiting there today. I'm wondering if you could end our program tonight with a little musical taste from your home country.
(Soundbite of song)
Mr. DREXLER: (Singing) (Foreign language)