Q&A: Draco Rosa Undergoes a Rebirth With "VIDA"

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Oatmeal and cereal. That’s what Draco Rosa had for breakfast the day we spoke with him. That’s what Draco is all about nowadays – not just oatmeal and cereal, but all the small things you enjoy daily. They matter. This is one of the countless lessons to come out of Draco’s latest work, “VIDA.” We had the pleasure of speaking with the Puerto Rican producer, musician, and singer-songwriter about the space he finds himself in after releasing the new album on Sony U.S., and how his views on life, music, and his everyday interactions with the world have changed. With the release of the album, Robi Draco Rosa has a lot to celebrate: “I feel happy for many reasons, happy for being healthy again, happy for the fact that this project came about and the album came out. It was something I was really looking forward to. What can I tell you, I’m very, very fortunate to be walking among the living. Enjoying it, enjoying it.”

“VIDA,” which comes on the heels of Draco’s recent cancer-free diagnosis, features duets with a host of his friends who also happen to be some of the biggest Latin artists in the music industry, including Juan Luis Guerra, Rubén Blades, Ricky Martin, Enrique Bunbury, Tego Calderon, and Calle 13, amongst others. They joined Rosa in performing new versions of the songs in his ecclectic, bilingual alternative-rock collection. The collaboration was a huge part of his healing process and efforts to beat cancer. In fact, Rosa was undergoing treatment for life-threatening non-Hodgkins lymphoma when the idea for “VIDA” came.

The album’s power transcends the rich music many of us have loved and appreciated for some time now. From its name “VIDA,” to the metamorphosis it underwent, the album is pure rebirth. Rosa’s happy, calm, and energetic demeanor was palpable throughout our conversation, where he spoke about his cancer-free diagnosis and how “VIDA” went from being his farewell opus to a work that celebrates rebirth in the most literal sense; last fall, Rosa had a stem cell transplant and was declared cancer-free on the last day of 2012. “Oh yes, it is a rebirth, I have new cells now! Obviously at one moment I thought, this is the last one. And the people that came on board also thought this was going to be my last project. Pero, you know, it was turned around.”

With a new appreciation for life, Rosa has found meaning in the little things in a way that he previously never imagined. This new outlook factors into how he sees the significance of the album, of his diagnosis, of his new everything. Though Rosa began promoting “VIDA” immediately after going into remission, he is regrouping and slowly understanding what this new beginning means to him. “It’s difficult for me to analyze right now how the intentions of the album have changed. It’s too soon. I have just woken up from a dream, you know. I’m at a moment where I’m enjoying the day by day, the simple things. Today, me fui al gym, I had breakfast alone, un cerealsito con almendras and oatmeal. I’m just enjoying doing absolutely nothing except that. The rest, I do not have it that clear. Of course I know the meaning and intention of this album is going to take a whole new dimension. I’m discovering and adventuring into it.”

Though enjoying the now is big for Rosa, the fearless singer of “Mas y Mas” is sure of one thing – his calling and life purpose have taken a bigger meaning: “You know, there are so many changes on a very profound level, personal and beyond. Sure, my purpose, calling in life became more clear. There is less of me trying to think, as much as just participating. Different, everything is different; everything has changed to me, music, the way I walk, what I had today. The celebration of my time everyday. I’m so thankful just to be able to wake up in the morning and feel normal. Now there is purpose in all, and that is evolving as I wake up from my slump.

“I’m at a moment where I’m enjoying the day by day, the simple things.”

I’ve always done my contribution, mostly into the arts and music. I believe in dreams. But, I think now it’s my time to share my experience with cancer, with nutrition. When I started, I tried to stay away from traditional medicine. Outside of that realm, I thought maybe I could go completely vegan. I went through a whole process. I feel I have the need to share that with people and my hope is that I can do that because I’ve been through it, so I can talk about it. It’s very easy to give up, because I’ve met people that gave up, I’ve met people that have died and I’ve met people who’ve survived.”

Speaking of survival, “VIDA” was born from all the support he was getting from his musical colleagues and friends during his recovery. It was a project that grew naturally, kept him distracted, and gave him something else to concentrate on during the rough days of treatment. It served as a catalyst for releasing everything he was going through. As Rosa puts it, “For me this album has been a wonderful experience. In difficult times, the music, the love, and support of the fans, and all the colleagues involved in this project have been a source of inspiration and LIFE. They were intense working hours at complex times with solidarity, emotion, and hope. I’m really excited and grateful to everyone who helped make this dream possible.”

The creation of this album was particularly special because Rosa holds genuine relationships with the artists that came together for it. Even though all of the songs in the album were written before he fell ill, the compilation easily speaks to the intense moments he went through, while remaining universally relatable. In this sense, the album is as much a lens into a specific moment in Draco’s life as it is a glimpse into what we are going through in the world, collectively.

“VIDA” is a true alternative potion. The musical arrangements don’t vary much from the original versions. Yet, there is something refined, more profound about each song that the new vocal companions bring out. Some of the vocals harmonize, some contrast, and some follow Rosa’s tone, giving a perfect combination of balance and variation to the album. For instance, Spanish rocker Enrique Bunbury nails a successful contrast and adds depth to the already intense song “Obra de Arte.”

“Enrique, I know him a few years back now, when he moved to Los Angeles. We started to do lunch get-togethers and shared our vegetarian lifestyle. Him, his wife, me, my wife, we would talk about music, business, the business of music, touring and so on. Right when I get sick he invited me to tour with him and I couldn’t go. During all this time he was so incredible—and his wife—with me, sending me notes of love, very loving and supportive. A day after recording with Ruben, Juan Luis, Juanes, Marc Anthony, I told him, oye vamos a comer. I shared the project with him and it came to me to invite him to join. And after sending him the track he was immediately in. He sounds amazing on it! It’s one of the jewels of the album as far as I’m concerned.”

“The creation of this album helped Draco reflect not only on his music but also on his life.”

Another song and collaboration that really stands out on “VIDA”  is “Noche Fria,” which he did with Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Mima. The arrangement accommodates Mima’s somewhat psychedelic, surrealist sound. “Mima was an important collaboration. Even though not everybody knew who she was. I though it was important. I said you know what, if this is my last album, I got to do something with Mima. And that was that. She was fantastic.”

Two songs that give closure to the album also bring a musical twist to the end, as Rosa’s rock merges with the poetic rappings from Tego Calderon in “Brujeria” and Calle 13 in “Madre Tierra.” “Tego was incredible, we also have a relationship of years ago. I called him, sent him the track, collaborated with the track back and forth. As a fact, again, this might sound weird but it is one of the strongest! With Rene too, we have been talking of collaborating for a while now. It was a natural thing. And it was real simple and just happens, friendship!”

And just like that, now, “VIDA” is no longer a legacy in the making for Rosa but a healing adventure and celebration of life. The album takes the listener well past Draco’s 20 years of struggles, dark times, growth, and bright times in life through music; it makes the listener, for those who have heard him and for those who haven’t, understand Draco in a different light. Esto es vida.