In August, one of my favorite singers and thinkers of all time, Jorge Drexler, announced the addition of a new date to his 2022 “Tinta y Tiempo” world tour. My heart skipped a beat when I read “Show Added: McCarter Theater, Princeton, NJ” How the hell did this Grammy and Oscar-winning Latin American superstar come to this small college town in the middle of New Jersey?
After rushing for front row tickets, my good friend Jordan Salama ’19 put me in touch with the directors of the McCarter Theater. I found myself invited to a pre-show workshop with Drexler in conjunction with the University’s Spanish and Portuguese department, and to dinner with Drexler and his band the night before the show. The night that also happened to be my birthday. My parents, my brothers and my friends in Buenos Aires were all in disbelief. And me too.
When the long-awaited day – Wednesday, November 9 – finally arrived, I still couldn’t believe I would be dining with the artist who shaped my musical tastes and whose insights helped me recognize my own identity as multidimensional. Like me, Jorge Drexler is a J-Lat: a Jewish Latino. His vision of identity as a spectrum allowed me to understand to what extent I belong to all my intersecting identities: a little to all of them, but to none entirely. It is in these shades of gray that identity can be so wonderful.
When Drexler arrived for dinner at La Mezzaluna, I pretended to keep my composure, though in truth, I could barely contain myself. Dinner table topics ranged from Puerto Rican reggaeton beast Bad Bunny to modern Brazilian literature, and I also befriended Drexler backing vocalists Alana Sinkey and Miryam Latrece. After a while, trying to guess my zodiac sign, they both asked me when my birthday was, and I modestly replied “November 9”. They spread the news around the table and within seconds the Italian restaurateurs arrived with a candle and the whole team sang happy birthday to me. I don’t think I’ll ever get over having Drexler across the table singing me the happy birthday song.
After this once-in-a-lifetime dinner, the next day’s pre-show workshop was filled with important lessons about identity, music-making, and connecting through contradiction. The event was an interactive Q&A session with live guitar and songs as well. But Drexler said he felt nervous because he was unfamiliar with the event format.
At the end, a graduate student asked him if he had ever contradicted the songs of his younger self in the lyrics of his new music. He proudly agreed and followed up saying that contradicting himself is not only inevitable, but it’s also essential to his growth. He said that contradiction grounded his evolution as a composer because he became true to his own growth and change of heart. His insightful answer made me question what I believe today; maybe I will contradict myself in 10, 20 or 50 years.
After the event was over, I approached him with a lingering question. “How has growing up mixing Jewish and Christian traditions shaped your perception of identity as defined in a non-binary way?” He replied that his parents feared he would be seen as belonging to the “other” side, so, going against Jewish tradition, they named Jorge Abner Drexler after his two living grandparents. .
“I was the bridge between families, between traditions,” he said. In his own metaphor, growing up in the middle of two worlds, he acquired two one-dimensional lenses, creating a binocular that allowed him to see in three dimensions.
The time has come for the big moment: the “Tinta y Tiempo” concert at McCarter. The lights went out, the crowd cheered in anticipation. I remember how special that moment was. The show opened with the epic and dizzying song “El Plan Maestro” (The Master Plan), before giving way to a mixed journey of heartfelt acoustic ballads and upbeat dance hits, new bops and timeless hits.
After a song or two, Drexler asked the room who didn’t speak Spanish. Twenty people raised their hands. The rest of us were given a task: to “host” non-Spanish speakers for the night, explain the meaning of the songs to them, and reach out to them. For the rest of the concert, there was a linguistic and cultural exchange in the air; it felt like a big network of Latinos and Spanish speakers welcoming, or in Drexler’s words, welcoming our neighbors. We opened the doors to Latinx culture, art and rhythm.
Blending sounds from all over Latin America – from Brazilian funk to Argentinian samba – Drexler truly brought a piece of home to McCarter’s scene. The synergy between him and the audience was electric, as he orchestrated our applause, our kicks and our songs. During the “Movimiento” (movement), the stage turned into a savannah, with animal noises and an energetic performance that included dancing and rapping about human history and evolution. For more melancholic songs like “Inoportuna” (untimely), the set turns blue on lyrics about the unpredictability of the times.
Before singing “Cinturón Blanco” (white belt), Drexler explained its meaning. “It’s about feeling like a newbie again,” as he reflected on how much he enjoys feeling new about things, looking at the world through a newbie’s eyes and starting from scratch. He went on to say that was exactly how he felt that morning at the Department of Spanish and Portuguese workshop when he stepped out of his comfort zone into an open Q&A conversation. , but that he also turned it into a learning experience for himself.
The concert ended with crowds heading to the front of the stage to jump, dance and sing along to his biggest hit, “Todo Se Transforma” (Everything is Transformed).
Jorge Drexler’s visit to campus was transformative. Through the dinner, the workshop and the concert, he brilliantly showed how much of an artist he is at 360 degrees (musician, philosopher, writer, guitarist, intellectual, etc.). Drexler said of his experience at Princeton
“The day we spent at the McCarter Theater was so much more than a regular concert,” Drexler said of his experience at Princeton. “The avidity for knowledge and the warmth with which the students and teachers of Princeton received me in the [“Behind the Scenes”] talk that we shared in the morning, set the tone for what happened at the concert in the evening.
“We all agreed that it was one of the most beautiful shows of the tour from a musical and technical point of view. And the warmth of the public completely surprised us! He continued. “We felt at home. Thank you McCarter and Princeton! We look forward to returning soon!”
After visiting Drexler, I’m excited to be a ‘host’ and spread more Latinx culture on campus, regularly contradict myself in the evolution process and challenge myself to be a newbie , to wear this white belt more often.
Ian Fridman is a photographer from Buenos Aires, Argentina. He can be contacted at [email protected]
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