URUGUAY: Sea - Jorge Drexler
Updated: Jan 20, 2021
The Uruguayan singer-songwriter's album has accessible indie tunes, but dig deeper and he touches upon some profound themes
There’s a modern sound to this album that I like a lot. On some levels it’s just indie rock with a pop sensibility, but underneath the catchy choruses and easy guitar sound, there’s a bedrock of interesting drum beats and electronic augmentations of voices or instruments that made this stand out for me. Drexler has a relaxing, calm voice, and he never goes much out of his comfort zone musically – this is definitely an album with a sound, and he sticks to that sound – but it works so nicely, it didn’t bother me. The opening track is particularly strong. El pianista del gueto de Varsovia, meaning ‘the pianist of the Warsaw Ghetto’, is a poignant track that reflects upon Drexler’s Jewish heritage. It’s both a tribute to Władysław Szpilman, the author of the book The Pianist, and the subject of the film of the same name, and also a rumination on a deeper theme. In the song, Drexler articulates a thought about the Holocaust that every Jew, including myself, has mulled over – just by an accident of birth, it’s not me in the camps. He does this by drawing a comparison to himself and Szpilman.
"Drexler is pointing out the fact that since the Holocaust, we’ve seen genocides and other crimes against humanity in Bosnia, Myanmar, and Rwanda, and as such there will be thousands of stories akin to that of Szpilman, and it’s just due to luck that it’s not any of us."
Dos generaciones menos/ Dos generaciones más Fechas, tan sólo fechas/ Yo estoy aquí, tú estabas allá
Two generations less/ two generations more,
Dates are only dates/ I am here, you were there
Later on in the song, he makes the comparison complete, by saying the following:
Yo pude haber sido el pianista del gueto de Varsovia
(I could have been the pianist of the Warsaw Ghetto)
It’s a really rather beautiful song that highlights the Jewish fear that it could be me, and that it could still happen to me. Jewish history is peripatetic, with many families (including my own) having roots in multiple countries, due to having to move to escape persecution, and it’s this residual inherited trauma that Drexler taps into here. It could have been him, like it could have been anyone, and that’s something we need to remember. He goes on to say the following:
Y el mundo no aprende nada, es analfabeto Hoy suena tu piano sólo que, en otros guetos Si yo estoy afuera y tu estabas adentro Fué sólo cuestión de lugar y de momento
And the world learns nothing, it’s illiterate
Today your piano plays, only in other ghettos
If I am outside and you were inside,
It’s only a matter of time and place
This makes the aforementioned theme abundantly clear, but also widens it out to beyond the Jewish community. Drexler is pointing out the fact that since the Holocaust, we’ve seen genocides and other crimes against humanity in Bosnia, Myanmar, and Rwanda, and as such there will be thousands of stories akin to that of Szpilman, and it’s just due to luck that it’s not any of us.
The rest of the album is a mix of love songs and songs about life. Sea, the title track is about a man at a crossroads in his life, accepting ‘sea lo que sea’, that’s to say ‘whatever it is’. Un pais con un nombre de río, meaning a country with the name of a river is a gorgeous semi-acoustic track about his homeland, Uruguay. Songs like Me haces bien, Raquel, and Creces are perfectly lovely love ballads. There’s a couple of tracks where he goes a bit too techno for my liking, but otherwise I can’t complain really. And don’t let any of this put you off, even if you don’t understand Spanish, there’s plenty to like here. Drexler has an ear for a catchy tune, and the guitar playing on the album is of a very high standard. It’s got a pleasant feel to it. It’s upbeat but not aggressive, occasionally slow but rarely too slow or boring. Not every track is brilliant, but there’s more than enough great tunes on Sea to merit a listen or two.