Jorge Drexler's poetry in motion

Singer and songwriter, medical doctor and TED speaker, Oscar winner and Uruguayan son of a German Jew who fled Berlin for Bolivia in 1939, Jorge Drexler says his new album, “Salvavidas de Hielo,” is filled with the “spirit of building bridges” in complicated times. “That’s my way of relating with trauma,” he says. “Not shouting or protesting, but opening my heart.” Speaking from his home in Madrid, in advance of a performance Thursday, Feb. 8, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, the 53-year-old Drexler spoke about his new music, migrants, climate change, empathy, optimism, Leonard Cohen and the potential he sees in Miami.

The title of your album, “Salvavidas de Hielo,” translates as “Ice Life Vests.” It’s a beautiful, frightening image. What do you want me to feel?

I like paradoxes. I like contradictions. Contradiction is my tool, is my friend. [Laughs] If you are talking about the life vest, its principal function is to save life. And ice is an element that floats on itself, ice floating on water, but it holds beneath itself its own destruction. It’s going to melt at some point. I like to explore the temporary, the transitory, the ephemeral aspects of reality.

The first time I told, for example, my sister, that was the name of the record, she told me, “Oh, what a pity. It’s a life vest that doesn’t actually save you forever.” And I said, “Is there anything that can actually save us forever?” [Laughs] Or should we apply the correct value on the ephemeral things that keep us floating for short periods of time?

These are unique, contradictory times. Is this album a reaction to anything in particular?

I love it that you say these are contradictory times that we live in, and I would love to add that all the times we have ever lived in as a species have been contradictory. [Laughs] By definition, time is a process. Process is change. Change is contradiction, because it’s the passage from one state to another state. We are part of chaos, and we must learn to navigate chaos and incorporate chaos, contradiction and paradox in our own procedures. That’s what I tried to do with my songs.

I have never intended to be an ideological singer-songwriter, but I found that after making the record, it was actually more loaded politically and ideologically than I suspected it was. These times that are happening right now, change is happening so fast, and this rebirth of nationalism and the step-back of empathy. I see that empathy is the most important hidden hand in history, like [author] Jeremy Rifkin said in “The Empathic Civilization,” and I guess this record took sides on the empathic arena. I’m usually not used to taking sides, but I think the record did take sides without my opinion.

Is there an example of a song that surprised you as more political than you intended?

Yes, in “Movimiento,” the one that opens the record, I say, “Yo no soy de aquí / Pero tú tampoco / De ningún lado del todo / De todos lados un poco — I am not from here / and neither are you / I am from nowhere completely / and I’m a little bit from everywhere.” That’s basically the translation. That’s the way I think.

We have been moving since we were born as a species 120,000 years ago in the central African savanna. We started moving to every corner of the world by migration. So when we talk about migration, we should see the big picture. Neither you, neither me, have been in the place where we were born for maybe two, three, four generations. Even if you are Native American, you came from Eurasia 2,000 years ago. That’s a blink of an eye in the history of our species. So we must be humble. We must see that it’s not they that are migrating. It’s us. We have always been migrating. … We survive because we move.

“Despedir a los Glaciares” has a languorous, somber beauty. The translation is “Saying Goodbye to the Glaciers.” Is that what you are doing?

It’s a hard song for me. I wasn’t sure about including it on the record. My wife felt moved every time she heard it, and that doesn’t happen to her with all the songs I write. [Laughs] It made me feel in a strange way, this song, because it’s gloomy at some points — it is accepting a farewell, something is going to go — but then I thought of it as an homage to Leonard Cohen. … Maybe you don’t see it reflected in the songs, but I’m talking about the impressions he makes in my self. He’s the king of empathy. He’s the king of connection. He will always try to be connected with the moment, with the feeling, and go deeper in the feeling and deconstruct the most important details of that feeling.

A way of seeing the ecological problem, from my point of view, is empathic with the biosphere. Once you develop that empathy you treat the glaciers as you would treat a loved one that you’ve lost. I’m actually mourning the glaciers like I am mourning a loved one. And I think that closeness, the biosphere and nature, is the only antidote to the opposite, to the separateness that we’ve had with nature since God in the Bible said that nature is there to serve you and you’re a separate thing with nature.

It’s healthy to say goodbye and to mourn and to dignify the loss. We should fight to avoid the effects of climate change, of course, but it’s our generation that’s going to have to say, at some point, goodbye to the Venezuelan glaciers. The song is dedicated to the Venezuelan glaciers in the Andes. There were seven glaciers in Venezuela, in Merida, and there’s one now. And in three years, there’s going to be zero. We coexisted for 20,000 years with those glaciers, and it’s our generation that’s going to have the duty, the responsibility of saying goodbye to them. We must be up to the task.

Are you optimistic?

I am an optimistic guy, but I don’t have a foundation for my optimism. [Laughs] I have faith in human beings. I think we’re on the verge of opening our empathy as a species to the biosphere. We are becoming more aware that we are part of a bigger thing. At the same time, we’re on the verge of destruction. So it’s a very, very critical moment, because I think we have the tools to overcome it.

What does Miami represent to you?

I see this potential in Miami that is actually based on the connection of all the Spanish-speaking cultures that have converged there. The last times I’ve been to Miami, I’ve found that there was this cultural feeling that was rising. You could feel the power of not only this hedonistic place where party and body is the central thing, but also building a commonwealth of Spanish cultures in this small area. And I thought to myself, maybe if the scene evolves in the right way it can become something like the Rio de Janeiro of the ’60s, where the bossa nova was born, a very sophisticated, Latin-oriented form of art was born. Miami is a very dynamic city and a very diverse city. The weather is so good that it leaves little space and time for reflection, [laughs] but I have very high hopes for Miami. I think this melting pot will produce more than fun and partying. It will produce ideas.

Jorge Drexler will perform 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 8, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave. Tickets cost $52-$104. Call 305-673-7300 or go to FillmoreMB.com. For more on Drexler and his album, go to JorgeDrexler.com.

bcrandell@sun-sentinel.com

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