A giant in the world of Latin music, celebrated singer/songwriter Jorge Drexler arrived at Austin City Limits bearing his most successful album yet, the seven-time Latin Grammy winning Tinta y Tiempo. We’re always excited to showcase South American and Spanish sounds on our stage, and the Uruguayan-born/Spain-based Drexler did not disappoint, incorporating a pantheon of global sounds into not only his first taping but his first-ever show in Austin, one that we live streamed around the world to his legions of fans.
Following a pre-recorded intro from Drexler’s own cousin, whose thoughts inspired the award-winning Tinta y Tiempo, the charismatic, white-suited bandleader and his half-dozen strong band opened with the groovy pop number “El Plan Maestro,” also the opening cut on Tinta y Tiempo. Drexler followed up with the slinky “Deseo,” noting that he and the band had spent the previous evening learning to two-step at famed Austin honky-tonk the White Horse. The musicians got even friskier on “Transporte,” a song that surely fills up dancefloors everywhere. “I wish you all to be beginners,” Drexler remarked before the sleep? pop tune “Cinturón Blanco,” a nod to the white belt in martial arts – i.e. the beginner’s rank.
The gregarious Drexler introduced “Universos Paralelos” to cheers, explaining its concept about expressing yourself in both conscious and subconscious ways. The foot mover also served to showcase his ace backup singers Alana Sinkëy and Miryam Latrece. “Telefonía” zeroed in on an even tighter pop melody while keeping the rhythm infectious. That led into one of the set’s tour de forces: the remarkable “¡Oh, Algoritmo!” Accompanied only by grooving guitarist Javier Calequi, Drexler both sang and rapped irony-saturated lyrics about the conflict between what we want and what we’re sold by algorithms and A.I. – joined by the eager audience. The maestro then introduced his band before letting drummer Borja Barrueta and percussionist Gala Celia preface the sparse, atmospheric “Tinta y Tiempo” with a percussion duet. With his band taking a break, Drexler performed the next song a capella. Of course, that song was the Oscar-winning song “Al Otro Lado Del Rio” from the film The Motorcycle Diaries – a song he performed for the movie.. His improvised unaccompanied version as he accepted his award inspired the version he sang tonight, with the audience accompanying him on the soaring chorus. Donning his guitar but still onstage alone, Drexler played “La Milonga Del Moro Judio” – “The Milonga of the Jewish Moor” – a folkish nod to his own Arabic and Jewish heritage and a commentary on the continuing conflict in the Middle East that, like so many of his other tunes, found the crowd singing along.
Following the basic sonics of “La Milonga,” Drexler vaulted into the twenty-first century, strumming his guitar with accompaniment from the band directly behind him on electronic beats and chords. Starting with the vocoder-enhanced “La Edad Del Cielo,” he went directly into the half-spoken/half sung “Guitarra y Vos,” yet another crowd singalong. The people joined the band in the rhythms, providing clapping percussion for the final electronic number, the sensual “Tocarte.” A distinctive and rewarding mini-set.
As the musicians retook their normal instruments, Drexler told the story of his German-born Jewish father fleeing Germany in 1939 to Bolivia, the only country in the Americas that would issue him a visa. That led, of course, to “Bolivia,” a dub-frosted, minor-key groover that induced claps in the audience and a delighted grin on Drexler’s face. Noting that it had been “a beautiful night,” the songwriter ended the main set with “Sea,” one of his early-career tunes and, from the audience’s reaction, one of his most beloved.
Of course, that wasn’t the end – Drexler had already told the crowd to call the band back for more music, and barely left the stage before coming right back on. He kicked off a three-song encore with the epic, energy-spewing medley of “Bailar En La Cueva” and “Moviemiento.” Drexler ended the night with the jaunty, irresistible “Todo Se Transforma,” transforming eighteenth century chemistry into a twenty-first century pop song. With big smiles, the musicians took a bow to huge cheers from the audience. Drexler gave us a history-making show that everyone can see this fall on your local PBS station as part of our Season 49.
Jorge Drexler and band on Austin City Limits, 2023. Photos by Scott Newton.