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Uruguayan singer-songwriter JORGE DREXLER came to the world's attention with his unprecedented 2005 Oscar Award for Best Song From a Film. His song "Al Otro Lado del Rio," from the acclaimed movie The Motorcycle Diaries, was the first Spanish-language song ever to be nominated and the first foreign language song in the Academy's 77-year history to actually win. News of Drexler's Oscar made the front page of the Wall Street Journal as it overshadowed another historic event, the inauguration of Uruguay's first socialist president.
Born in Montevideo in 1964, Jorge Drexler is the son and grandson of German Jews who immigrated to South America just before World War II. The family also lived in Israel briefly during the height of the military dictatorship in Uruguay. In Israel, the aspiring teenaged singer-songwriter tried his hand at his first songs, with lyrics not in Spanish but in Hebrew.
Drexler's career path initially followed in the family tradition - his parents and siblings are all doctors. He received a medical education and began practicing his specialty in ear, nose, and throat. Although medicine was the family profession, music and literature were an integral part of his upbringing. He studied some form of music from childhood, including guitar and piano lessons. In his early 20s, he received first prize from the University of Uruguay for one of his short stories. He began writing songs professionally at age 25.
In 1992, while still practicing medicine, Drexler released his first album, La luz que sabe robar, and two years later followed that with a second recording, Radar. Though the albums were well received in Uruguay, success in Latin America's smallest country of three million inhabitants was not enough to sustain a career. Renowned Spanish singer and songwriter Joaquin Sabina, who discovered Drexler at a performance in Montevideo in 1994, urged him to come to Spain, where he was sure there would be a keen interest in his well-crafted songs.
Drexler arrived in Madrid with a suitcase and a guitar in 1995. His family couldn't decide which was worse - that he had abandoned medicine or that he had gone so far away from home. Luckily, Sabina's first impressions were correct. Drexler was soon placing songs with a host of well-known artists including the Cuban legend Pablo Milanese, Ana Belén, Victor Manuel, Rosario Flores, Neneh Cherry, Lorenzo Jovanotti, Paulinho Moska, and Miguel Rios, and sharing the stage with many of them as well.
Frontera (1999), considered by many to be Drexler's artistic breakthrough, was recorded in Uruguay with two members of the funk/hip-hop group Peyote Asesino, Carlos Casacuberta and Juan Campodónico (of the Bajofondo Tango Club), as co-producers. Drexler played the traditional Uruguayan styles of candombe and murga against house and drum 'n' bass rhythms, creating a musical base from which to express his nostalgia and longing for his distant homeland. The resulting album opened new doors in Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America.
The 2001 album Sea was nominated for a Latin Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Album in 2002. The album's success generated new opportunities for Drexler and he began composing music for films, including the Spanish-Argentine productions Antigua, Vida Mia, and Botin de Guerra. In 2003, Drexler co-authored the international hit song "Perfume," which appeared on the album Bajofondo Tango Club, which was awarded both a Latin Grammy and Argentina's Premio Gardel.
Drexler's first American release was his seventh album, Eco, which came out just after the Academy Awards ceremony in March 2005. As a result of the award, he received extensive coverage from the American media including an appearance on The Tonight Show. The New York Times wrote, "A deeply talented Uruguayan singer-songwriter in his early 40s, Mr. Drexler writes songs that are contained by craft but pull toward longing." "Al Otro Lado del Rio" was nominated for Song of the Year at the 2005 Latin Grammys, and Eco received a Best Latin Pop Album nomination at the 2005 Grammy Awards.
Since the Oscars, Drexler continues to be in great demand on the touring circuit both in Europe and in Latin America. In Brazil, where he was previously unknown, his concerts have drawn audiences of close to 2000 people per show. Brazilian artists such as Maria Rita and Ivan Lins have commissioned new songs from Drexler that appear on their most recent releases.
12 Segundos de Oscuridad (Twelve Seconds of Darkness), his eighth recording, released in the U.S. in February 2007, has been hailed in Spain and Latin America as the most personally revealing album of his career. It tells tales of long-time love affairs that end badly, relationships at precipitous beginnings, and trans-Atlantic sleepless nights of soul-searching over matters of the heart.
Listen to samples from 12 Segundos de Oscuridad.