The woman be­hind ‘Des­pac­ito’ un­packs its suc­cess

Business World - - BULLETINS -

MEX­ICO CITY — Erika En­der, the cowriter of “Des­pac­ito” — the Span­ish­language dance hit that turned into a world­wide sen­sa­tion — has a few ideas about the se­crets to its suc­cess.

One thing, she says, is its mes­sage to take it slow in a fast-mov­ing world (“des­pac­ito” is the diminu­tive of “slow”).

An­other is the fact that she, a fe­male song­writer, shaped its por­trayal of se­duc­tion, even though the song was recorded by men ( her song­writ­ing part­ner Luis Fonsi and rap­per Daddy Yan­kee, later joined in a cross­over ver­sion by pop star Justin Bieber).

Then there is the song’s seem­ingly mag­i­cal abil­ity to cross bor­ders at a time when there is much talk of build­ing walls (it tied the record for most weeks at num­ber one on the Bill­board Hot 100 chart — where non-English mu­sic rarely ap­pears — just as US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump fights for a bor­der wall to keep out Latin Amer­i­can im­mi­grants).

But En­der’s bot­tom-line an­swer to the ques­tion of what made the song such a suc­cess? “I have no idea,” she says with an in­fec­tious laugh, her eyes alight be­neath an ex­u­ber­ant fi­esta of blonde curls.

The 42-year-old singer-song­writer, who was born in Panama and now splits her time be­tween Los An­ge­les and Mi­ami, talked to AFP Wed­nes­day in Mex­ico City be­fore giv­ing the key­note speech at the Women’s Fo­rum, an event de­signed to bring to­gether lead­ers and gen­er­ate cre­ative ideas on gen­der is­sues in a Latin Amer­ica plagued by in­equal­ity and vi­o­lence against women.

Q: What was it like to watch your cre­ation ba­si­cally set the world on fire?

A: It’s been amaz­ing. I’m re­ally grate­ful for what’s hap­pened. Way beyond a vic­tory for all of us in­volved, it’s a vic­tory for Latin cul­ture. The whole world is singing and danc­ing in Span­ish. It’s kind of a miracle, in such a vul­ner­a­ble mo­ment, be­cause of ev­ery­thing that’s been said.

I think that peo­ple con­nected with it all over the world, and it’s a con­fir­ma­tion of how mu­sic can cross bor­ders, can re­ally con­nect with peo­ple’s hearts and unify us... They were talk­ing about build­ing walls and we’re tear­ing down those walls with mu­sic.

I have no idea why it be­came the huge hit it be­came. I don’t re­ally think and feel that we did some­thing dif­fer­ent while writ­ing the song. I’ve been writ­ing songs for 25 years and had amaz­ing mo­ments in my ca­reer with dif­fer­ent songs. But I never ever thought that this song would cross over this way.

Q: As a woman, how did you feel about writ­ing a reg­gae­ton song, a genre that has a his­tory of machismo? And as the co-writer, how do you feel about the fact the men who sang it have got­ten most of the credit?

A: I think it’s a song that ex­presses our de­sire to se­duce each other and love each other much more slowly than the pace the world is mov­ing now.

To me it’s about a beau­ti­ful kind of se­duc­tion, with class and el­e­gance, the kind of se­duc­tion a woman likes, at least speak­ing for my­self.

I didn’t write it think­ing about a man or a woman... Ob­vi­ously, be­cause of the ( reg­gae­ton) genre, it sounds very dif­fer­ent and breaks all the norms, be­cause it’s a genre that’s been very ag­gres­sive against women.

At the end of the day, what mat­ters are re­sults. Early in my ca­reer I had to hide my name on demos sung by men, be­cause if I sent it with my name they said, “Nice song, but it sounds re­ally fem­i­nine.”

But I don’t see art as a com­pe­ti­tion. I see it as shar­ing. My col­leagues and I all know who wrote the song... I’m just grate­ful the uni­verse, through this song, opened so many doors, opened the world for me.”

Q: So have you bought a pri­vate jet?

A: ( Laughs.) Ev­ery­body’s just think­ing about the money, and I re­ally think that what we have to fo­cus on is the way that mir­a­cles hap­pen, the way the world gets con­nected and united by a song. It’s amaz­ing.

Of course a big hit gives you a lot of money, but I don’t do this for money. I do this be­cause I truly think that when­ever we have the power to trans­late emo­tions into melodies and lyrics, it is such a great gift. I try to do it as re­spon­si­bly as pos­si­ble, know­ing that I’m mark­ing some­one else’s life. I’m do­ing some­one else’s sound­track.

And this has been the sound­track of half the planet, so I’m re­ally grate­ful for that. —

PANAMANIAN com­poser and mu­si­cian Erika En­der, the co-writer of “Des­pac­ito” — the Span­ish­language dance hit that turned into a world­wide sen­sa­tion — speaks dur­ing an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with AFP in Mex­ico City on Nov. 8.

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