From Uruguay, Juan Campodónico has leaded an assortment of musical projects of international projection. At the end of the nineties he was part of the rock and hip-hop band Peyote Asesino. At the beginning of the XXI century he created Bajofondo, along with Argentinean producer Gustavo Santaolalla, a project that toured many times the world and also won several awards, including the Grammy. He also worked as a producer with the Academy Award winner Jorge Drexler and the Latin Grammy winners Cuarteto de Nos, among others.
Campo, the band leaded by Campodónico, which carries Uruguay’s Country Brand around the world, is about to realease a new album. Tambor del Cosmos will be released in April, trough Sony Mexico, from which thesingle “Bailar Quieto” is out now as advance.
On February 24 Campo will be playing at Medio y Medio in Punta del Este,on March 31 the band will be part of The Lollapalooza Festival in Buenos Aires, and in April they will head Mexico to present the new album.
-How important is your place in the world for your projects? Do you think international audiences perceive your music as different because it comes from Uruguay?
-I don’t know how other people perceive it, but I do feel that in my music there is an intention to show where I am from. I am influenced by thatso Itry to give my music an identity. We can’t sell rock and roll to the United States, since they conquered the world with it. The music I make has strong ties with rock, but heard from a different place,in contrast with other music and mixed with other things. I believe it´s fine to accept the influences you can have in your music in a natural way. They represent how you see the world from this place.
With Campo we try to stay in tune with new trends, , create something new, and to be on the same pageas the globalized world; but at the same time what we are saying comes from another place, and that makes a big difference.. Having an identity, a personality, makes your music stronger and are basic values in the artistic world.
Does this explain the interest that has been awakened by Uruguayan music in the region and the world?
-Artists in Uruguay started taking music more seriously in the past 15 years. And the music expanded and grew considerably. From being a marginal and more amateur activity to now, where there is a lot of people working professionally around music, not just musicians. It had a positive input in a lot of things. Uruguay improved its self-esteem trough its cultural products in the last years, and I include football in this.
Also having Uruguayan musicians playing and touring around the world has been influential, because people relate with different sensibilities trough music. It is very powerful, because it’s a relationship made trough a sensitive channel, a more human thing than diplomatic, economic or political channels.
These kinds of relationships are good to strengthen your identity. Because, if you are isolated, you don’t have any needs to express who you are.
In Argentina, for example a lot of Uruguayans musicians are appreciated and loved. Musicians like No Te Va Gustar, La Vela Puerca, El Cuarteto de Nos or Jaime Roos are extremely popular in Argentina.
-Campo is about to release a new album. How do you start the process of making a new record?
-Creative processes are very long. Sometimes they are related with music and sometimes not. With this album, Tambor del Cosmos (Cosmos’ Drum), the idea, which is implied in the title, about the music resonance and how this vibration can be an atomic thing connected with everything came to me after reading a book on African philosophy called Africa y El Tambor (Africa and the drum), written by Argentinean Beatriz Hilda Grand Ruiz. The book is about African culture and how their worldview came from their connection with percussion. This idea inspired me a lot and was an impulse. I always made music where the rhythm thing is very important. For me rhythm is art and science, is something essential. I think all contemporary popular music is influenced for this African vision about rhythm and percussion.
I was always interested in the physical relationship with music. I always dig the music that can make you dance but at the same time, lyrically or melodically could be melancholic; music with different layers and textures. This new Campo album has a lot of this kind of searches.
-All your music projects seem based in teamwork. Bajofondo and Campo records are usually expanded with guest artists. How do you do to keep a personal touch working with so many people?
-In the Bajofondo case all these people are sharing some concepts that are set up from the beginning. The Bajofondo concept, which Gustavo Santaolalla and I create, could be described as revisiting music from the Rio de la Plata (Uruguay and Argentina) like tango and milonga with today’s tools, without closing the doors to different influences. The two of us are also producers and we like to see albums as complete works. We have a double pleasure, not just to do music together, but to work also with other artists in a concept. And we defined our own style. You recognize a Bajofondo tune in the first bar of music.
Campo is another world but it also has a concept behind it. Campo is more pop oriented, with more contemporary influences, ranging from cumbia to more global concepts.. The group of people behind the music is very important too. And part of the concept of both projects is that they are open groups opened to outside collaborators.
-And what happened with this collective approach when you work as a producer with artists with their own concepts and visions, for example in your work with Jorge Drexler?
-It depends on the case. The producer work is very wide. Sometimes you are a musical director, others a record engineer, sometimes and arranger, and many times a combination of all these things. I considered myself an artist who loves to do records, my own and other people’s records. In the case of Drexler we did various albums together and they were very different compared with each other. Jorge is a very solid songwriter, which comes with very finished ideas. But there are always things to contribute to; being different layers of sound or trying to expand arrangements. Part of the trick for a producer is to wide the dimensions of an artist work.
Sometimes I see my work as an adaptation of what my father did as a theater director (his father was Cesar Campodónico, director of the Theatrical Institution El Galpón). Grabbing a text, get actors to do the roles, develop ideas, search references and direct a mise-en-scene, including light, stage design…this is also the work of a producer. You see it from the outside but you work close to somebody, in this case a musician, who already has a text, a script, and you work with him in the mise-en-scene.
-You were touring the world for more than 15 years now. In all this time, do you experience a change in how people around the world perceive Uruguay?
It changed a lot. On one side, the globalization process widened the interest for different cultures. Also, for different reasons Uruguay experienced migrations of it population, being for political reasons in the 70´s or for economic reasons in the years after. Uruguayans that spread around the world carried Uruguay with themselves. And when they returned home, they brought with them lot of connections with the outside world.
I also noticed how the idea the people had of Uruguay changed in these years. Twenty years ago Uruguay was a very closed country and this has changed.
Many issues about Uruguay started to attracted people’s attention around the world. There was football of course, but also personalities like (former President) José Muijica, really attracted international attention. The style of Mujica that can be identified as typically Uruguayan was perceived as something very interesting, because his way of living was so different from other presidents. The same with different progressive laws passed here over the last years.
At the same time we have art and culture, which is not only music. Uruguayan movies started to be seen in the world and winning awards in international festivals. They were low budget productions, but they were very appreciated because they showed a different vision. People started to know more about us trough culture, football, and public personalities.
Someone said that the Uruguayan progressive laws, like marijuana legalization or egalitarian marriage were laws that costed very little money to implement, but made many people happy. This is part of the country spirit. Uruguay is a place where happiness is cheaper than elsewhere,and this is a great value.
Interview: Andrés Torrón