Sebastián Yatra Talks Accepting Emotions As They Come on ‘Dharma’ & ‘Encanto’ Success

Photo by Erick Fernando Quezada.

Sebastián Yatra refuses to be put into a box. He’s the man currently responsible for the brigade of tears we’ve all shed during that flashback scene in Disney’s Encanto, singing “Dos Oruguitas” in the film. The Colombian-American sensation first shot to fame with his 2016 Cali Y El Dandee, Cosculluela collaboration of “Tracionera,” and again in 2018 with the now modern classic “Dejame Robarte Un Beso” with Carlos Vives. It’s been three years since his last album, Fantasía, and Yatra has returned to take listeners through the 17-track genre-less journey of Dharma.

Dharma marks Yatra’s third studio album, and is a refreshingly bold take on open-concept music — the album doesn’t abide by the constraints of genres. Instead, is true to the story being told. While many artists have attempted to cross genres, none have done it as seamlessly as Yatra has. Instead of a move for economic gain or notoriety, Dharma feels expressionistic in every fiber, showing all that it means to be human against the backdrop of Yatra’s once broken, twice fixed heart. 

The album flirts with a variety of influences. The title track “Dharma,” a collaboration with Rosario and Jorge Celedón, inspired the listener to laugh in the face of life’s tumult, “Las Dudas” is an unexpected Blink-182 and Simple Minds-esque track, and the gem of “Modo Avión” is Latine pop in it’s almost perfected form. Then, of course, there’s the undeniable opus that is “Quererte Bonito,” a one-take live recording of the love ballad featuring Grammy-nominee Elena Rose and produced by the legendary Julio Reyes Copello. 

The thread between this collection of stories is the undeniable sense of warmth and intimacy that flows from Yatra in song and person — someone whose desire to authentically connect with other humans exudes from every word, spoken or sung. Remezcla spoke to Yatra about the genre-bending of Dharma, the success of “Dos Oruguitas,” and how he found deep faith in the creation of this project. 

In the recent music scene, I haven’t seen an artist genre-bend quite like you have with Dharma. What was the decision process like in making an album that combines genres in a time that tends to favor putting artists into “boxes?”

Because the word “genre” didn’t exist in making this album — ever. I make music and I make songs, and I want to make the best song possible, no matter what rhythm it is. I want to transmit emotion and tell stories. And when you’re making a song, whatever style you use, should go in line with how you tell the story and not what “genre” it is. For example, if I wanted to tell a more sexual story, like “Regresé” or “Si Me La Haces,” which are more coqueto, like flirty, we used a reggaeton sound because it expressed the story better. If we think about it as a body, this album doesn’t just make music for your heart or your brain. It makes music for your brain, for your heart, for your bones, for your stomach, for your kidney, for your lungs. It’s an album that’s honest and faithful to the emotions and not to a specific result. 

For me, what makes or breaks an album is the opening track, which I feel like you perfected with “Basicamente.” It completely draws you into the world of Dharma. Tell me about the process of creating the sonic landscape for the album within that song. 

I made the whole album out of order. The only thing I knew about the tracklist is that I wanted “Basicamente” to be the first track. It starts the album off so purely. That poem at the very beginning of it, before the chorus comes in, that says, “Luna está sola tenía una planeta y le paseaba a las olas no era la única que…” is one of the things I’m most proud of writing. It just made a lot of sense that it was the way to start the album. It has a lot of the nostalgia that you’re gonna find in the album, but it also has a lot of the love and the belief and real understanding that everything is going to be ok. It gives you that esperanza. 

“Dharma, for me, means accepting reality. I don’t have to pretend that I’m happy all the time & block off tough emotions — I’m embracing them.”

I wanted to mention “Quererte Bonito.” It just sounds so intimate and drippingly romantic. Can you tell me about the creative process behind the song?

That song, for me as a writer, is my masterpiece. Out of the work that I’ve done, it’s like my thesis. Everything about it, from the chords at the beginning to the melodies between me and Elena. And the silence. In this song, it’s so important. I’m a huge fan of silence. When the chords just sound by themselves, there’s so much more magic in it. Sometimes we just want to fill, fill, fill, and having those spaces is beautiful. There’s no tempo to this song, and we recorded it all live. It’s the only song on the album that’s recorded completely live, because it was impossible for us to record it any other way. We put our hearts and souls into it.

Another one of my favorite tracks is “Modo Avión.” It’s an excellent pop song. It has such an upbeat sound but such sad lyrics of mourning a relationship. First of all, are you ok? And second of all, how did writing this song help you grow from that situation?

I guess I’m ok! [laughs] Some days, I’m good. Some days, I’m not so good! [laughs] What? [off-camera mumbling] “Some days I’m not so bad!” That’s what Santi [his manager] said! I’ve been in a personal process these last few years, learning to be present with myself and to love más bonito. A lot of times, we don’t understand why things happen, but it’s all part of a growing process to be able to querer a la gente en una forma más especial. Loving in a more mature way and in a way that we add value to each other’s lives. This album, a lot of the songs are part of that learning process, because a lot of them are my own stories being told in songs.

Dharma, for me, means accepting reality. I don’t have to pretend that I’m happy all the time and block off tough emotions — I’m embracing them. I wrote the album based on the emotions of fear, anger, loss, happiness, joy, faith, strength, weakness, fear, desire. It’s all a part of us. 

I also wanted to congratulate you on the success of “Dos Oruguitas” from Encanto! How did it feel to be a part of a film that celebrates Colombian culture, and how does it feel to be considered for a literal Academy Award Nomination?

I’m super ecstatic about people walking up to me on the street and telling me, “Hey, thank you for ‘Dos Oruguitas.’ You’re a part of putting Colombia on the map in a positive way.” Colombia’s always been on the map, but, in the past, it’s been because of Pablo Escobar and drugs, even though Colombia is on the map in different ways — through music, fashion, literature with García Márquez, and now, with Disney’s Encanto

I love that it’s a story that so many of us can identify with. We don’t have to be princesses or princes to feel like we’re there, and it’s a message for all the people out there who feel like they’re not enough. Being able to have gotten to sing “Dos Oruguitas” fills me with joy, pride, and definitely excitement about this Oscar Shortlist. Let’s see what goes down, but I’d love to be up there representing my country.

Listen to Dharma below.