If Sebastián Yatra were a crystal, he’d embody a rose quartz. Possessing love in every groove, Yatra does the same in his gentle and welcoming tone as he speaks compassionately about crafting baladas in a space preoccupied with Latin trap and reggaeton melodies. The genre is as big as it’s ever been with the crossover successes of fellow Colombians Maluma and J Balvin but Yatra, sitting backstage of the Movistar Arena in Bogotá, Colombia, is focused on making ballads great again.
“I think younger artists are scared. There’s been an error in associating ballads with boring and slow and old,” he explains as the legendary Miguel Bosé belts out one of his many baladas to a yearning crowd. The 23-year-old is the youngest artist on the homecoming bill, which features Juanes and Bosé, who became an honorary Colombian in 2010.
“A lot of the time, artists who’ve sang ballads early in their careers have gone urban or gone into reggaeton and that’s awesome, it’s importantisimo, do all these types of music and genres and progress musically,” he says while pointing out Ed Sheeran, Michael Bublé and Quincy Jones as dream collaborators. ”But if these artists were to bring back their ballads, it would beautiful because there’s a whole generation that will get some of that too. I would feel bad if they never got to experience it.”
It’s hard to ignore how important ballads play in Yatra’s creative outpour. Hours before chatting with Yatra, I revisited his debut album MANTRA en route from New York to Colombia. As the heavy rain trickled into my carry on, “No Hay Nadie Más” played in my ears, easing down the stress building in my shoulders. The artist toys with sultry hymns of love on the album while turning up the heat on tracks like the super-popular “Traicionera.” Sure, Latin Pop tart tunes are all about getting the girl, but Yatra’s practice derives from an earnest space.
Born in Medellín, Sebastián Obando Giraldo lived in Cartagena briefly before finding somewhat of a permanent home in Miami, Florida. Settling into songwriting at the age of 12, Sebastián moved back to Colombia eight years later. His breakthrough single was “El Psicólogo,” (“The Psychologist” in English) a gentle ballad which became a hit in his native country. Ironically it was the trap-EDM blend of “Traicionera” that supplied him with international allure. The single reached No. 1 in Colombia and sweet spots on the Billboard Latin and Latin Pop charts, respectfully. His ability to blend between subgenres is a testament to his well, mantra.
“My mantra are my songs,” he says. “It takes you to that good energy with whatever you’re listening to. All these songs have these positive vibes, especially in the lyrics. They’re just sharing love. This album is my first mantra and I’ll have another one next year, hopefully.”
As Yatra continues to push for the slow jams, he’s prone to his ability to turn up. His single “Ya No Tiene Novio” with Venezuelan duo Mau Y Ricky earned him another batch of platinum plaques thanks to its undeniable blend of pop and reggae flair. There’s also the very clever campaign that went to making the video.
“It’s pretty crazy because the song blew up before it even came out,” he reveals. “Instead of telling people it was awesome, we told everyone that the collaboration sucked and having everyone say, ‘Dude you guys messed up, the song so bad.’” Artists like Maluma, Zion Y Lennox, and J Balvin joined the “Yatra vs. Mau and Ricky” faux feud, raising more hype and curiosity for the single.
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“Maluma sent Mau and Ricky a video saying, “You guys f**ked up, why would you guys sing with Yatra?” and J Balvin was like, “You guys gotta make up,” he said while imitating Balvin’s signature prayer stance. “People were just laughing with it and that’s what the song was about. Just having a good time. In the video that’s what we’re doing too, just stealing each other’s girls, which is part of everyone’s everyday life.”
For the making of MANTRA, Yatra says hitting every genre wasn’t his intent as much as the input of serenity, inspiration and hope. “We never said, we do ‘this’ type of music, I just make songs to make you wanna party like crazy or make you get intimate with a girl you like,” he says. “All these songs have a purpose and each of them are written for a different moment in life. All these beats make you feel different things. I did a trap record called “Como Si Nada” with this guy Calle and the rap he does is mind-blowing.
“I just enjoy getting out of my comfort zone. I think younger artists, Colombian artists and Latinx artists around the world are doing a great job of getting outside the box or rather, getting rid of the box.”
Bending musical traditions have worked well for Latinx creatives. Since 2016, Latin music has captivated streaming services and YouTube with many of the billion-viewed videos belonging to artists like J Balvin (“Mi Gente”), Luis Fonsi (“Despacito”), Becky G (“Mayores”), Maluma (“Felices Los 4”), Jennifer Lopez (“On The Floor”) and many more. As hip-hop and R&B reigns as the most consumed genre in the world, Latin music and its subgenres are right behind it.
As we get closer to the final hours in chilly Bogotá, the party continues at Movistar Arena with Yatra wrapping up our convo to hop on stage with Juanes. The moment is a big circle as one of the first albums Yatra owned was Juanes’ 2004 release, Mi Sangre. It’s as if Yatra’s mantra of love and modern baladas are coming into fruition before our very eyes.
Stream MANTRA below.